The food and drink sector and preparing for EU Exit

If the UK leaves the EU without a Brexit deal, there will be changes that affect your food and drink business. Find out how you can prepare.

Importing and exporting

There are some actions you’ll need to take if you import or export products between the UK and EU.

Preparing for changes to trade at the UK-EU border

To minimise disruption to your business at border points you should take the following steps:

  1. Get a UK Economic Operator Registration and Identification (EORI) number so you can continue to import or export goods and apply for authorisations.

  2. Decide if you want to hire an import-export agent, or make the declarations yourself.

  3. Contact the organisation that moves your goods (for example, a haulage firm) to find out what information they need to make the declarations for your goods, or if you will need to make them yourself.

If you don’t import and export products directly check that any agent or business you use is prepared.

Read the guidance on simplified customs procedures for trading with the EU if we leave without a deal.

Further information is provided in HMRC’s advice for businesses trading with the EU.

Importing animals and animal products

If the UK leaves the EU without a deal, the way you notify UK authorities of these imports will change.

You’ll no longer be able to use the EU’s Trade Control and Expert System (TRACES) to notify the UK authorities about an import. There will be a new system to replace this.

If you import live animals or animal products, fish, shellfish or fish products from non-EU (third) countries directly or transiting through the EU, your consignment will need to be checked at a Border Inspection Post (BIP).

If you import high-risk food and feed not of animal origin from non-EU (third) countries, directly or transiting through the EU, it will need to enter the UK via a Designated Point of Entry (DPE).

Importing animal by-products not for human consumption (ABP) from EU countries to the UK

If you’re importing category 3 ABPs from the EU, you can continue normal trade activities from 31 October. There will be no additional controls or checks. It’s likely that from 31 October you will not be permitted to import category 1 and 2 ABPs from the EU.

Read the guidance on importing high-risk food and feed not of animal origin after EU Exit and importing and exporting live animals and animal products.

Exporting animals and animal products

If you export animals, animal products, fish and fishery products from the UK to the EU, you’ll need to follow a new process if the UK leaves the EU without a deal:

  1. You must complete an Export Health Certificates (EHC). EHCs must be signed by an authorised signatory (for example, an official veterinarian) following the consignments inspection.

  2. You’ll also need a catch certificate for most exports of fish or fish products.

  3. The consignment must enter the EU via a Border Inspection Post (BIP) within the EU. You’ll need to consider if your current trade routes could be affected. There is not currently a BIP at Calais. See a list of EU BIPs .

  4. You must follow the EU’s customs processes for third countries, including finding the correct commodity code and customs procedure code for your goods.

The UK has applied for third country status and the UK government is confident that the UK meets the animal health requirements for products of animal origin (POAO) exports listing.

For more information, see importing and exporting live animals and animal products.

Importing plants and plant products

There are some changes to regulations for the plant trade that will affect you if you import plants and plant products (for example, certain vegetables, seeds and fruit).

After the UK leaves the EU, plants and plant products currently managed under the EU plant passport scheme will be subject to UK import controls. There is a new process you must follow.

If you import regulated plants and plant products from non-EU (third) countries via the EU without plant health checks by an EU member state:

Exporting plants and plant products

For exports of controlled plants and plant products to the EU, third-country rules will apply on all:

Read the guidance on importing and exporting plants and plant products if there’s no withdrawal deal and plant health controls.

Food labelling

The rules for what you must show on food labels will change for some food and drink products if the UK leaves the EU without a deal.

The food labelling changes include:

  • country of origin labelling
  • food business operator (FBO) address labelling
  • use of the EU emblem
  • use of the EU health and identification marks
  • use of the EU organic logo
  • use of the geographical indication (GI) logo

The UK government is aiming where possible to allow a transition period for labelling changes in relation to goods produced or imported and placed on the UK market after exit day. Wherever a transition period is not possible, Defra will encourage pragmatic enforcement within the UK. These proposals are subject to agreement with Devolved Administrations and Parliamentary process.

If you export food products to the EU, you should get advice from your EU importing contact on the EU’s labelling requirements.

The UK has no control over how food labelling changes will be enforced outside the UK. The EU has confirmed that labelling changes will need to be in place from exit day to export to their markets. Other non-EU countries may also require changes to be in place from exit day to export to their markets.

If an individual food product is placed on the EU market before the UK leaves the EU, this “stock” of food can continue to be sold, distributed or transferred in the EU as of the exit date without the need for labelling changes. Food can be considered to be placed on the EU market if it has been:

  • held in the EU for the purpose of sale, including offering for sale or any other form of transfer, whether free of charge or not
  • sold, distributed, or transferred by other forms to the EU

Read the guidance on food labelling changes after Brexit and the EU’s guidance for goods on the EU market.

Organic food labelling

The EU organic logo must not appear on UK organic goods. If the UK is able to achieve equivalence with the EU – where both still recognise each other’s standards – before exit day, then UK organic goods can enter the EU and can continue to use the logo.

If the UK does not achieve recognition from the EU, the EU market will be closed to UK organic certified produce from 31 October 2019. The UK will recognise organic goods from the EU, EEA and Switzerland as operating an equivalent organic system for a limited period.

Non-EU (third) country organic products can be checked at any point of entry and are only required to enter at a Border Inspection Post (BIP) if they are classed as another commodity that requires checking. For example, an organic sausage will need to enter at a BIP that can check animal products.

Read the guidance on trading and labelling organic food labelling after Brexit.

Marketing standards

If your products are subject to marketing standards some of the processes you follow will change if the UK leaves the EU without a deal. Products that may be subject to changes include:

Marketing standards inspections will continue, but will be managed to minimise delays at the border and disruption to trade flows.

If you export these products to the EU, you will need to meet the marketing standards requirements for third countries set out in the EC marketing standards regulations, until more information is available.

Your employees

There are certain schemes and processes you should be aware of if you employ people.

Employing EU workers

If the UK leaves the EU without a deal, EU citizens who are resident in the UK before 31 October 2019 will be able to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme to get settled or pre-settled status, which will mean they can continue to live, work and study in the UK.

The scheme will be open to applications from 31 October 2019 and EU workers must apply by 31 December 2020 if the UK leaves the EU without a deal.

You can use the EU Settlement Scheme guidance for employers to give further information to your employees.

Applying for skilled-work or unskilled-work visas

If the UK leaves the EU without a deal, there will be a new process for EU citizens arriving in the UK before 31 December 2020. From 1 January 2021, a new skills-based immigration system will launch.

For non-EU nationals, EU Exit will not affect the application process for work visas.

Chemical regulations

If your business uses chemicals, you should take the following steps to prepare for the UK leaving the EU without a deal:

  1. Visit the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) website for information on how each of the chemicals regimes will be affected.

  2. Read the UK REACH guidance for actions for businesses using chemicals. You can see actions for different types of businesses in the HSE’s scenario summary table.

  3. Find out what you can do to prepare for disruption to trade at the UK border.

You should check contingency plans across your supply chain to find out what information you need to supply to UK agencies, logistics providers, suppliers and customers.

Trade agreements

If the UK leaves the EU without a deal, there will be no implementation period. In this scenario, the government will seek to bring into force UK-third country agreements from exit day, or as soon as possible afterwards.

These new agreements will replicate existing EU agreements as far as possible. Where replacement trade agreements are not agreed, trade would take place on World Trade Organisation (WTO) terms with that country. Details of each agreement will be shared with parliament and the public when they have been agreed.

Read the guidance on existing free trade agreements if the UK leaves the EU without a deal.


If the UK leaves the EU without a deal, the UK would implement a temporary tariff regime. This would apply for up to 12 months while a full consultation, and review on a permanent approach, is undertaken.

Under the temporary tariff regime the majority of UK imports would be tariff-free.

In certain sectors, tariffs and tariff quotas would be maintained to support the most sensitive agricultural industries, the automotive sector, vulnerable industries exposed to unfair global competition, and to maintain the UK government’s commitment to developing countries.

Read the guidance on temporary rates of customs duty on imports if the UK leaves the EU with no deal.

Data protection

Your business will need to make sure it follows data protection law if the UK leaves the EU without a deal.

If you operate across the EU or exchange personal data with organisations in the EEA, there may be changes that you need to make before the UK leaves the EU.

Read the 6 step process and the data protection guidance from the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).

You can also check if you can use standard contractual clauses (SCCs) for transfers from the EEA to the UK.

More information

Visit Prepare for EU Exit to find more guidance on policy changes relevant to your sector and sign up for updates.

Published 18 February 2019
Last updated 10 April 2019 + show all updates
  1. Added link to marketing standards guidance for poultry meat.
  2. Updated to include the EU's guidance on goods on the market.
  3. Tariffs guidance updated with information on the temporary tariff regime.
  4. Guidance updated with information on marketing standards.
  5. Updated to include information on trade agreements if the UK leaves the EU without a deal.
  6. Added guidance on importing animal by-products not for human consumption (ABP) from the EU to the UK.
  7. First published.