The UK government’s upcoming border checks will be implemented in a phased approach, the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has confirmed.

In a statement released today (19 April), Defra said physical checks would start as planned on 30 April for “the highest risk goods”.

Document checks, however, will still apply to “consignments of all risk levels”.

“Checks will be scaled up to full check levels in a sensible and controlled way”, Defra added.

The controls are also meant to apply to “medium-risk” food imports.

These include meat products like minced meat, rabbit, poultry, game, both chilled and frozen. They were also meant to affect some types of “wild-caught fish” such as chilled or frozen tuna, mackerel, anchovy and herring due to their histamines content.

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Processed dairy, including chilled milk, cheese containing raw, non-pasteurised raw milk and eggs were also due to require physical assessment.

At this stage, it is unclear when medium-risk goods will become eligible for the physical health and safety checks, nor when.  

All animal-based products imported from the EU and European Free Trade Association regions were required to adhere to the rules, as were plant products coming from the EU, Switzerland and Lichenstein.

A UK government spokesperson said: “As we have always said, the goods posing the highest biosecurity risk are being prioritised as we build up to full check rates and high levels of compliance. Taking a pragmatic approach to introducing our new border checks minimises disruption, protects our biosecurity and benefits everyone – especially traders.”

They added they were “confident” that the ports “have sufficient capacity and capability across all points of entry to handle the volume and type of expected checks”.

Trade bodies have issued a lukewarm response to the news. In a statement sent to Just Food, Cold Chain Federation chief executive Phil Pluck said: “We welcome Defra’s recent engagement with the Cold Chain Federation about BTOM’s implementation and the recognition that a pragmatic approach is required.”

However, Pluck also stressed there is still an “ongoing confusion about how and when new checks will be introduced” which “makes these preparations incredibly challenging”.

He added that: “A phased approach is the right one but businesses urgently need clear information about what exactly these phases will include, and a definitive timeline. Giving businesses the certainty they need will help minimise the inevitable cost impacts of the new system for businesses and for consumers.”

The incoming checks are the second phase in the UK’s post-Brexit Broder Target Operating Model. The regulations were launched in January, with medium-risk goods needing to send a pre-notification to Defra 24 hours in advance of their arrival at the UK border, as well as requiring an Export Health Certificate.

Importers of low-risk foods, such as UHT milk, some pasteurised cheeses, vegetables like asparagus, cucumber and broccoli, and shelf-stable meat and dairy goods, will also need to pre-notify their consignment but will not need a health certificate.

So-called Consumer User Charges for animal, plants and plant products entering or transiting through the UK are also due to come into play at the end of April.

The charges has caused concern to mount over the BTOM’s potential impact on food prices in the agrifood sector.

Research published by the insurance group Allianz last week suggested checks could cost food and drink importers up to £2bn ($2.49bn), as well as hike inflation up by +0.15 percentage points over the next year.