Up to 142,000 tonnes of food could be wasted over the next six months because of Brexit border disruption, ministers have admitted.
An estimate drawn up by the government as an “illustration of what we could reasonably expect” suggests food, drink and feed equivalent to 96 million whole chickens may end up being thrown away.
Meanwhile UK meat exporters have warned of produce being confiscated and impounded by French authorities at Calais due to incorrect paperwork, describing the new system as “convoluted, archaic and badly implemented”.
Labour said businesses were “paying the price” for the government’s lack of preparation and trying to blame exporters for the effects of their new bureaucracy.
Pressed about the wastage in a written parliamentary question, Conservative food minister Rebecca Pow said: “The Government carried out a worst-case scenario analysis to ensure there was sufficient waste management capacity to handle any additional waste arising.
“Over a six month period the Reasonable Worst Case Scenario for perishable goods including food, feed and drink was 142 kilotonnes and to date disruption has been minimal.”
But the analysis itself, published by the Cabinet Office, warns that “disruption could be lower in the initial days of January but we would expect sustained disruption to worsen over the first two weeks as freight demand builds”.
Boris Johnson and other ministers have written the issues off as “teething problems” but exporters now have to fill in export and entry declarations and apply for other paperwork for their consignments before they can move.
Many businesses lack the expertise to deal with the new bureaucracy, which did not exist inside the single market – with trained customs agents also in short supply.
The situation is leaving lorries stranded at ports for days, which has seen time-sensitive consignments left to spoil or be rejected altogether by their intended recipients.
Deliveries from France and Germany were at around 50 per cent of pre-Brexit levels last week as hauliers attempted to avoid red tape and queues.
Labour’s shadow environment and food secretary Luke Pollard, said: “The Government spent months telling businesses to get ready without properly getting ready itself. Now our British food businesses are paying the price.
“No-one wants to see food stuck rotting in lorry queues at ports. The Government cannot simply shrug its shoulders and place the blame on businesses – they must take responsibility for the economic mess they have created through their incompetent preparations, and take action now to support our exporters and prevent this costly food waste.”
Commenting on the figures, the food minister Ms Pow added: “To support the smooth flow of produce across the border and help prevent food wastage, the Government has put in place traffic management mitigations such as Operation Brock, published a Border Operating Model which prioritises border flow in the early months of 2021, and worked with ports to provide additional inland sites for customs checks.
“The Government has also implemented a ‘fast-track’ service for Heavy Goods Vehicles (HGV) arriving at the Kent border with a negative Covid-19 test worked closely with retailers to establish upstream testing to facilitate traffic flow.”