Supermarkets face having to label food as “not for EU” in four different ways under Brexit plans being discussed by the Government.
Grocery chiefs are understood to be expecting to have to place labels denoting food cannot be sent to the EU on not only the individual packs of food, but also on cases carrying products and on supermarket shelves.
This follows discussions in recent weeks with officials and was described by one senior supermarket boss as “gold plating” the so-called Windsor framework.
It could, they said, potentially result in stores replacing millions of shelf edge labels.
It comes amid confusion among businesses over how the post-Brexit trading arrangements will work, with retail industry group the British Retail Consortium (BRC) earlier this month warning that many traders did not have “sufficient detail” over the requirements.
Officials are expecting to publish guidance on labelling within the next few weeks.
“Not for EU” labels will start being phased in on meat and dairy products from October as part of the Windsor framework, which is being championed by the Government as an effort to ensure the same goods are on shelves across the whole of the UK.
They were initially expected to only apply to products going into Northern Ireland, but the Telegraph revealed earlier this month that the labels would be brought in across the whole of the UK.
It sparked criticism from senior Conservatives including Sir Iain Duncan Smith who branded the rules “ridiculous”.
Former Cabinet minister David Jones told the Telegraph: “There is no good reason why food produced and sold in any part of the United Kingdom should be labelled ‘not for EU’, much less if it is sold in mainland Great Britain.”
Despite this, ministers have pushed ahead with the plans. Foreign Secretary James Cleverly confirmed that the labels would be required across the UK last week for “practical and philosophical” reasons.
This would mean there was a common labelling regime across the UK.
The EU’s current guidance indicates that supermarkets will have to be labelling produce in multiple different ways, saying: “The Commission and the UK government have agreed on requirements for the labelling of agri-food retail goods at different levels: individual, box, shelf signs and posters.
“From October 1 2023, pre-packed meat and fresh milk will be individually labelled. Goods sold loose need only to be labelled at box level (e.g. apples) and easily visible signs would need to be placed next to the price tag on the shelves in the supermarkets.”
The labelling rules have sparked frustration among supermarket bosses, adding extra costs at a time when they are under pressure to bring prices down.
Andrea Martinez-Inchausti, assistant director of food at the BRC, said: “The Government must realise that the scale of relabelling, which we cannot begin until we have the detail, means there is insufficient time to makes the necessary changes ahead of the October 1 deadline for moving goods to Northern Ireland through the new green lane.
“Given this is intended to prevent goods from GB entering the EU through Northern Ireland, it is unclear why such labelling is necessary for all goods sold in Great Britain. This will only add unnecessary costs at a time when the cost of living is already high.”
A UK Government spokesman said: “We have always been clear that labelling would be needed for the green lane.
“The new ‘not for EU’ labelling requirements will only be needed for certain goods, and will be phased in from October 2023. This is a proportionate and necessary means of ensuring goods moving in the green lane will only be sold to consumers in Northern Ireland and ensures they can move without routine checks.
“We are engaging with businesses to help them adapt to these new arrangements and will set out more guidance in due course.”
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