Controls over Imported Animal Products, Food and Feed – a guide for importers

Certain products when brought into the UK from a third country (outside the EU) are subject to special controls at the port.  These rules apply whether it is for your own use, to sell or use within your own restaurant.  These rules are in place to protect human and animal health and consumer choice. 

Initially these rules were applied to food and feed, however, more recently they have been extended to cover materials that come into contact with food such as ceramic crockery, plastic utensils and the seals in jar lids.  There are general rules that apply to all imports and others that are applied to specific products that have been determined to present a particular risk. 

Because some of the controls are very specialist EC legislation has restricted the ports where these imports can be made.  You need to check the import conditions to make sure that controlled products are imported through an approved port.  Suffolk Coastal Port Health are responsible for controlling imports of food through the ports of Felixstowe, Harwich and Ipswich and feed imports through Felixstowe and Ipswich.  Essex County Council are responsible for feed imports through Harwich.  See the map of ports for more information.

General Principal - food must be safe to eat

There is a general law which requires that all food on sale in the UK is safe to eat.  However, for certain products that are known to present a risk to public or animal health there are additional rules that must be complied with at import.  If consignments are not imported in compliance with these rules they could be destroyed at the importers cost.

Who carries out checks on food?

Port Health Officers (specialist Environmental Health Officers) and Official Veterinary Surgeons (specialist vets) carry out checks at the ports/ borders to make sure that food imported into the UK from outside Europe is safe to eat and that import conditions have been met.

Away from the border, food safety checks are carried out in food premises e.g. shops and restaurants by Environmental Health Officers.  Trading Standards Officers may also carry out checks to ensure that food standards are being met.

Which foods have special import conditions?

Some of the foods that are subject to special conditions include meat, and fish and products including these – which are referred to as Products of Animal Origin or POAO (more information on POAO controls).  As well as controls on POAO some products including nuts, spices and dried fruit are also subject to special controls, together with the controlled food contact materials these products are referred to as Non-Animal Origin (NAO) products (more information on NAO controls).  It is important that you make sure that you understand any special requirements that are in place before the consignment is shipped as you may need to obtain certification from the food or veterinary authority in the exporting country. 

What legislation covers imports of food and what does it do?

The Official Feed and Food Controls (England) Regulations 2009 are the main regulations applicable to NAO imports.  (There are parallel regulations in place throughout the UK).  The Regulations give effect to Commission Regulation 882/2004/EC. 

The regulations give Local Authorities the responsibility to monitor all imports of food into the UK (imports are consignments transported from outside the EU, consignments from EU countries can be traded freely), and to perform official controls, which could include inspecting, sampling and detaining food consignments.

Where problems are found with the food, for example a non-permitted substance is found the legislation provides for control measures to be applied.

What happens when I import food?

Port health monitor the imports of food and feed by checking the manifest, this is carried out via the port community system (Destin8). If the information on the manifest is not sufficiently detailed or it appears that the consignment should be subject to controls it will be held/ detained at the port using Destin8. The nominated agent will be notified that it is detained via Destin8.

If your consignment is detained you will need to contact Port Health providing further information. If you do not believe that it should be subject to port health controls copy documents such as a copy of the invoice and Bill of Lading will be required to prove what the consignment is. If your consignment is a controlled product you will need to provide the relevant certification see additional information (see information relating to High Risk Food Products and Products of Animal Origin).

Levels of checking

Not every consignment will be checked at import.  Checks are carried out on a risk basis.  For products subject to special import controls there may be checking frequencies laid down in the legislation.  The type of check that is carried out can vary, however there are essentially three types of check. 

What happens if my goods are not OK for import?

If a problem is found, port health will contact you and advise you of the options that are available, this can include the destruction, special treatment, re-dispatch (outside the EC) or other appropriate measures such as the use of feed or food for purposes other than those for which they were originally intended.  You will be liable for any costs incurred in carrying this out.

Why is food safety important?

Public Health protection in relation to food is an increasingly important public health issue.  Worldwide, measures are being put in place in response to increasing incidence of foodborne illness and consumer concerns. 

Food safety

In the UK, the FSA is responsible for food safety policy and legislation.  They aim to protect public health from consumption of food, and otherwise protect the interests of consumers in relation to food. 

The food law in place in the UK is mainly derived from EU legislation.  The overall approach is to track food from the farm to the fork.  Where necessary, control measures are applied on a risk basis and are based on scientific advice.  Controls are applied to all food and feed irrespective of whether it comes from inside or outside the EU.  Port Health checks are carried out at the point of import into the EU.  The import controls that are applied are part of a system designed to ensure that the same safety standards are observed for food produced outside the EU.  

Consumer choice

EU and UK law respects the consumer’s right to informed choice by requiring informative labelling and publishing scientific advice so that consumers can have confidence in the food they eat and so that they can make ethical and health choices for example of through the provision of allergen information and the identification of GM ingredients.

Further Information

Sources of further information about:-

Other regulations to look out for when importing food

Organic Products

If you are intending to market imported products as organic in the EU, you will need to comply with some additional import rules, and register with Defra’s Organic Farming Branch.  Every consignment of organic product must be accompanied by a Certificate of Inspection issued by a 3rd Country Inspection Body.  The certificate must be presented to port health for endorsement.  There is a charge of £45 for the checking and endorsement of the certificate.

Medicinal Products

Medicinal products require authorisation from the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) before they can be sold in the UK.  Products that are not classified as a medicinal product but are to be ingested are regulated as if they were food.  . 

Chinese Herbal Medicines and other herbal remedies are also subject to special regulation.  In addition to the regulations care should also be taken to ensure that products are not covered by other specific legislation such as that for products of animal origin or contain plant or animal material that is covered by CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora).

Protection of Endangered Species CITES legislation (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) is enforced at import by HMRC.  The policy is the responsibility of Defra Global Wildlife Division.  Read guidance on importing endangered species.

GM and Novel Foods

Genetically Modified (GM) foods and other novel food types can only be marketed in the EU if they have passed a rigorous safety assessment. 

A novel food is a food or food ingredient that doesn’t have a significant history of consumption within the EU.  Although the requirements cover all foods, fruit pulps, seeds and extracts intended for use as ingredients in fruit juices or energy drinks, are commonly affected.  Care should be taken to ensuring that the permit where one has bee issued covers the intended use.

You can find out more about importing novel and GM products on the FSA website.

Labelling

Food labelling is a complicated area, and many of the labelling laws are not enforced unless food is found on sale.  However, there are certain labelling requirements that are enforced at import – these are related to the import requirements for the product e.g. products of animal origin may be required to carry a health mark and details of the country and processing plant where the goods originated.  Detailed requirements are covered in the EU legislation. 

As well as the labelling requirements that are enforced at the point of import, there are some more detailed labelling requirements which are enforced at the point of sale. If we become aware of an issue with the retail packaging you and the relevant inland enforcement body will be advised of the defect.

Read more about Food Labelling and Packaging on GOV.UK

Fish Labelling Regulations are also in place to ensure that fish are labelled correctly and consistently at the point of sale, so that purchasers know exactly what they are buying, whether it was caught at sea, in inland waters or was farmed and, if caught at sea, in what sea area.

Read more about The Fish Labelling Regulations on Seafish.org

Packaging Materials

In general packaging should be:-

Sometimes legislation will lay down specific conditions relating to the transport of your goods, for example relating to the temperature, where this occurs; you should ensure that your transport arrangements observe this.

Wood packaging materials are specially regulated and may require a Phytosanitary certificate for plant health purposes.  For further information about this check the Forestry Commission’s website.

Contacts and Further Information

If you have any queries about the importation of goods into the UK there are a number of different places that you can go to for help. 

Check the links panel to find relevant contacts.

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