Supermarkets bringing meat products from Great Britain to Northern Ireland face new bureaucracy from Monday.
The change is a consequence of Brexit and the Irish Sea border.
Retailers must now use Export Health Certificates (EHCs) to import chilled, processed meat – this covers products like fresh sausages and minced meat.
NI has remained part of the EU’s single market for goods, which means that food products entering from the rest of the UK must undergo EU import procedures.
Central to this are EHCs – a certificate signed by a vet for every consignment of products of animal origin – meat, fish, dairy and eggs.
Supermarkets have been given a “grace period” until April where they do not need EHCs for most products.
However, the EU considers some meat products to be high-risk goods so they now require EHCs.
Retailers see the new processes for meat as the first real test for how the EHC process will work when the grace period expires.
The UK government has asked the EU to extend the grace periods until 2023.
The Joint Committee, the UK-EU body overseeing the NI Brexit deal, will meet this week and may reach a decision on grace periods.
Some meat products face an outright ban from GB-NI export in July unless further agreement can be reached.
The UK government is helping businesses with the cost of EHCs through its Movement Assistance Scheme.
‘Supply to schools, hospitals and prisons’
Meanwhile an official minute of a meeting between Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots and retailers confirms Mr Poots was told the sea border could lead to interruptions to food supplies to schools and hospitals.
The meeting took place in January and in its aftermath the Democratic Unionist Party minister said it was made “very clear” to him that supplies could be affected if grace periods were not extended.
The departments of health and education played down the issue and political rivals accused Mr Poots of scaremongering.
However the minute does record that the Henderson Group, which owns the Spar brand in NI, raised concerns about the wholesale foodservice part of its business.
The minute, which was released after a Freedom of Information request, reads: “Concerns regarding food service – hospitality, disruption to supply to schools, hospitals and prisons.”
In a statement, the Henderson Group said: “The Henderson Group has been engaging constructively with Daera (Department of Agriculture) and other relevant bodies to ensure disruption to the supply chain is minimised.
“This covers our foodservice, wholesale and retail businesses. We are currently dealing with some delays, not shortages.”
By John Campbell / BBC News NI Economics & Business EditorRead full article Share on twitter