When the next phase of Brexit starts, a lot will change for businesses exporting fruit, vegetables and cut flowers to the United Kingdom (UK). It now looks like it will be in late 2023. Due to Brexit, they will soon have to provide all their shipments with a phytosanitary certificate. In ‘Buitenstebinnen’, a semi-annual publication of Naktuinbouw, NVWA and Gert Jan Eggers from Quality Produce International are also featured in addition to Naktuinbouw.
The check takes place at times that are desired from a logistical point of view. To prevent logistics stagnation, NVWA has made it possible for these companies – under certain conditions – to carry out this inspection themselves if they wish. Naktuinbouw developed a training course to prepare employees in these companies for this new task.
Doubling the number of checks
According to Brexit coordinator Peter Verbaas from the Dutch Food and Consumer Safety Authority (NVWA), the new Brexit phase will lead to a large increase in the number of plant health checks. “In the domain of vegetables, fruit and cut flowers alone, it is expected that there will be 250,000 additional checks. Compared to 2020, this is a doubling of the number of plant health checks.” It is about a highly concentrated need for control. According to Verbaas, this makes the situation extra complex. “After all, it’s about fresh products. They all have to go by boat to England at 12.00. It is therefore not possible to spread the checks over the course of the day.”
The current capacity of the KCB inspection service is currently not sufficient to carry out so many checks in limited periods.” According to Verbaas, it is exciting how the business community relates to the new reality. “This may mean that companies combine individual, smaller shipments to one larger one. But even then, there is still enormous pressure on inspection capacity.”
Fast flow under pressure
It quickly became clear to Verbaas and other parties involved that a steady flow of fresh vegetables, fruit and cut flowers to the UK would come under considerable pressure. That is why they chose to develop the Company Recognition System. This is a system where recognized companies are allowed to carry out phytosanitary inspections themselves with authorized phytosanitary control personnel. A joint initiative of NVWA, Association of Wholesalers in Flower Nursery Products (VGB), Association of Flower Auctions in the Netherlands (VBN), KCB (Quality Control Bureau) and GroentenFruithuis.
Verbaas: “Together with these chain partners, we have investigated how we can transfer the responsibility for a well-balanced system of plant health control to business. Naturally, at the same time that all the frameworks and guarantees set by international legislation and regulations are maintained.”
Call a specialist
At the end of October 2021, Verbaas approached Naktuinbouw on behalf of the initiative. Naktuinbouw was formally requested to develop training to train staff to carry out plant health checks, specifically for the UK. “Naktuinbouw has an above-average sense of the sector and is well-trusted in various relevant product domains. In addition, they are used to developing training courses. It felt like a logical step for us.”
Policy officer Marco van Dalen of Naktuinbouw drew up the outlines and framework for this new course in response to this request. Senior inspector and content expert Martin Vrolijk and training advisor Ellis Visser from Naktuinbouw subsequently took care of the further content design of the training ‘Phytosanitary control officer’.
“The result is an educational training where theory and practice go hand in hand,” says Marco. “The training consists of four e-learning modules of one hour each. Here, the education deals with the legal framework for the plant health area. We also discuss various inspection techniques that can be used to recognize pests and diseases. The practical part consists of three half-day sessions at business locations of flower export and fruit and vegetable companies. After the practical sessions, participants are given homework and practice tasks. They do that in their own company. In this way, the candidates are already doing the necessary flying hours.”
“Participants receive a certificate if they have completed the e-learning modules in full and have passed the theory test with a score of 90%. In addition, they must have participated in all practical courses and passed the practical exam,” says education supervisor Ellis Visser. The three Naktuinbouw colleagues are proud of the end result. Visser: “We developed the training from scratch. This in just a few months. This was only possible through good teamwork with all involved colleagues at Naktuinbouw. It is great to see that the participants are also excited about the training.”
New system Gert Jan Eggers from the import and export company Quality Produce International welcomes the opportunity that NVWA offers to carry out plant health checks himself. Eggers is responsible for the quality of the final product at the De Lier company. “We specialize in fruit and vegetables and do a lot of business with the UK. Our logistics system cannot tolerate delays and must be able to continue unhindered. The company inspection system ensures that everything does not come to a standstill in the future. It is not only in the interests of individual companies, but also in the interest of BV Nederlandene.” Eggers has now successfully completed the training course developed by Naktuinbouw. ”It is important to know what our quality people need to know and be able to do.”
Eggers recognizes that there is always a tension between trade, logistics and quality. “In the new situation, I am not at all afraid of a conflict of interest in our company. We stand for quality and will never compromise on it. A quality worker must always feel comfortable rejecting a batch. He or she should never feel pressured by a sales colleague. From the board’s side, we will be very focused on that.
Quality employees must feel covered in this area. Everyone should also realize that you must be very strict within this system of self-control. If you don’t, you’ll end up breaking your own glasses. Then you risk falling back into a system with 100% control by KCB. And then you really run into problems with your delivery time. Your products are simply not on time for the boat.”
Bring chain partners
With the new phytosanitary control system directed by the NVWA, affiliated companies can carry out the phytosanitary control themselves. Eggers is therefore trying to involve QPI’s chain partners in the new system. “Of course, it helps enormously if growers and other suppliers subject the parties in their own business to a plant health check. And then they hand over the approved batches to us. We therefore encourage them to apply for accreditation from NVWA. Fortunately, they are doing well.”
How will an export shipment to the UK work?
When phase 4 of Brexit starts, businesses will need to register their export shipments of fruit, vegetables and cut flowers to the UK (England, Scotland and Wales) in e-CertNL. This is an electronic government system for requesting phytosanitary export inspections. The inspection will take place after registration. After approval, a certified phytosanitary certificate follows. The plant health certificate is an official document. In this, the authorities in the country of origin declare that the plants and plant material are free from diseases and pests. In the Netherlands this is the NVWA.
Until now, this declaration accompanies a shipment from the exporting country to the importing country in international trade. After 1 July 2022, an electronic exchange of certificates with VK can probably take place. The inspection services usually issue the certificate immediately after the inspection. For vegetables, fruit and cut flowers, this is KCB, the Quality Control Agency for fruit and vegetables, potted plants and cut flowers. In the near future, authorized phytosanitary inspection staff will be able to carry out the phytosanitary checks themselves for the export of cut flowers, fruit and vegetables to the UK at companies with a Business Control System. KCB inspectors will then only carry out random checks on 1 out of 20 registered consignments. The digital – and therefore remote – certification of the plant health certificates remains exclusively a task for KCB.
The above article is taken from Buitenstebinnen, a semi-annual publication of Naktuinbouw (issue 18, July 2022). The entire magazine can be seen here.