EU reject calls for no checks on food entering Northern Ireland from the UK after January
THE European Commission has said it while takes warnings from supermarkets about food supplies "very seriously" goods entering Northern Ireland from the UK will still need to be checked to meet EU rules on food safety.
Arlene Foster and Michelle O'Neill wrote to the EU last week to urge "flexibility" in the operation of the new Irish Sea border when it came to essential food supplies.
From January 1, while Northern Ireland will stay in the EU single market for goods, some food products arriving from Britain will need to be checked.
This includes any product of animal origin, including meat, milk, fish and eggs, which the EU has strict rules on.
Animal products will require an export health certificate, which could add substantial costs to every trailer load of supermarket goods coming into the North.
In their letter to the European Commission, the first minister and deputy first minister said: "It is hard to imagine a more fundamental aspect of everyday life than the purchase of daily food supplies.
"Hence we would ask you to recognise how important it is that the current consideration of the detail of how the protocol will be applied takes our unique context into account."
In a response to the joint appeal the EU Commission said yesterday: “The Withdrawal Agreement’s Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland prevents the return of a hard border on the island of Ireland.
"It protects peace, stability and prosperity, North-South cooperation and the integrity of the EU Single Market.
"In order to do so, certain EU rules will continue to apply in Northern Ireland after the end of the transition period.
"That means that goods entering Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK, and the rest of the world, will need to meet EU rules on food safety.
"These rules are there to protect the health and safety of consumers in the single market, including consumers in Northern Ireland.
"We are aware, of course, of the concerns raised regarding supermarkets and the import of food products into Northern Ireland.
"We take this issue very seriously – in the same way that we are taking very seriously every single issue regarding Northern Ireland.
"We are currently exploring all options available under EU law. Discussions on this will continue with our UK counterparts in the Joint Committee and the relevant Specialised Committee."
First Minister Arlene Foster responded by saying: "It is simply not credible nor in good faith" for the EU "to maintain a position that well-established supermarket chains" cannot be trusted to send goods to Northern Ireland for circulation in local stores".
"These goods are sterling packaged by well established companies, there is zero risk that they would use a backdoor to the EU", she said.
She added that it was "simply not reasonable for the EU to insist these goods are treated as "at risk" putting food and produce supplies" to Northern Ireland at risk from January.
Mrs Foster said that along with the deputy first minister they had " urgently asked the EU to consider the serious implications and impact on our essential food and produce supply chains from GB and immediately facilitate these goods to flow unfettered to the people of NI from the rest of the UK".