SPRU - Science Policy Research Unit

No-deal chaos to hit food businesses trading across the Irish border, warn experts

Crashing out of the EU without a deal would leave many food businesses operating in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland with mounting costs and paperwork, with a likely detrimental impact on consumers and public health, warn food policy experts.

A new briefing, published as part of the Food Research Collaboration’s Food Brexit Briefing series, argues that a no-deal Brexit would lead to disruption in food supplies across Ireland, due to the introduction of border controls on foods entering Ireland from the UK, with the Republic of Ireland (ROI) legally obliged to impose controls on the Irish side of the border.

Dr Rosalind Sharpe from the Food Research Collaboration said:

‘Since the Good Friday Agreement, the food sectors on both sides of the border have quietly integrated. Farms and food businesses, from the giant to the micro, depend on being able to ship goods easily across the border. A no-deal Brexit pulls the rug from under them. Some could go out of businesses within days.’

Gary McFarlane, Director of the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health Northern Ireland, said:

This is a serious issue for both food businesses and public authorities in NI. There aren’t enough resources or qualified professionals available to help the significant numbers of businesses that will be affected with the documentation necessary for cross-border trade. Without that resource businesses risk losing that trade. And that then risks their future viability with all of the implications that brings.

For example, for a sandwich maker producing say five different types of sandwiches containing animal products - such as butter, cheese, fish or meat - and shipping them to 20 outlets across the border on a daily basis that would mean 100 certificates every day. This is because foods containing constituents of animal origin will need to be accompanied by an Export Health Certificate, filled in by the exporter and authorised and countersigned by a vet or an Environmental Health Officer, who would in turn need to inspect the goods physically to verify compliance. Neither small food businesses affected nor the public organisations involved be it local councils or the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAREA) in Northern Ireland currently have the capacity and resources to cope with this.

The briefing also warns that price hikes and restricted supply are likely to impact fruit and vegetables the most; foods that we are urged to eat more of.

Prof Tim Lang of the Centre for Food Policy explained:

‘There has been too little attention paid to the impacts a no-deal will have on food flows through the island of Ireland and absolutely zero attention to the impact a no-deal could have on imports of fruit and vegetables into Northern Ireland. These are vitally important. Disruption is a risk to public health and must be avoided’.

Professor Erik Millstone of the University of Sussex said:

“A No Deal Brexit threatens food security across the UK but the greatest risk in the UK will be to Northern Ireland. A hard border will severely disrupt flows of raw materials and products, and lead to higher prices and reduced supplies on both sides of the border.  It will imperil the financial viability of farmers and food businesses and lead to higher prices and poorer diets for consumers, especially in poor households. 

The authors urge the UK government to recognise the importance of food flows between NI and ROI and recommend that a no-deal Brexit must be averted; that effective government and governance in NI be put in place before 31 October; and that financial support be made available to Local Authorities in NI to cope with the impacts on consumers and businesses.

For the full set of recommendations read the briefing:


Or read a summary:



Notes to editors

Press contacts:

Rosalind Sharpe (Email: Rosalind.Sharpe@city.ac.uk, Phone: 07966 162543)

  • City, University of London: Shamim Quadir, Senior Communications Officer, School of Health Sciences. Tel: 0207 040 8782, Mob: 07989 643 112,   Email:  Shamim.quadir@city.ac.uk)

The Food Research Collaboration is a UK initiative that brings together academics and civil society organisations to improve the production, sharing and use of evidence-based knowledge to influence and improve UK food policy. It has 600 members and is based at the Centre for Food Policy at City, University of London. http://foodresearch.org.uk/

The Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH) is the professional voice for environmental health representing almost 8,000 members working in the public, private and non-profit sectors. Building on its rich heritage, CIEH ensures the highest standards of professional competence in its members, in the belief that through environmental health action people's health can be improved.

Environmental health has an important and unique contribution to make to improving public health and reducing health inequalities. CIEH campaigns to ensure that government policy addresses the needs of communities and business in achieving and maintaining improvements to our environment and our health.https://www.cieh.org/

City, University of London is a global higher education institution committed to academic excellence, with a focus on business and the professions and an enviable central London location. City’s academic range is broadly-based with world-leading strengths in business; law; health sciences; mathematics; computer science; engineering; social sciences; and the arts including journalism and music. https://www.city.ac.uk/

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