After the transition period – Export Health Certificates

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When the UK leaves the transition period with the EU, a number of new processes and procedures will be required to ensure UK exports are able to make it to the EU market.  This blog sets out one example of these new procedures – the requirement for Export Health Certificates that will be needed to ensure continued export of animals and animal products to the EU and to Northern Ireland. The requirement for an Export Health Certificate for goods moved to Northern Ireland from Great Britain comes under the terms of the Ireland and Northern Ireland Protocol which formed part of the Withdrawal Agreement.  EHCs will be required from the end of the transition period irrespective of the nature of the future relationship.    

What is an EHC?

An Export Health Certificate (EHC) is an official UK Government document, issued by the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA), an executive agency, sponsored by the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, the Welsh Government and The Scottish Government. An EHC must be signed by an official veterinarian (OV) or local authority inspector, that confirms that certain food or animal products meet the import requirements of another country.  An EHC is required for each product at the time it is exported as is discussed later in the blog. 

What goods will require an EHC?

In addition to the export of live animals, the bullet points below shows the range of animal products which may also require an EHC.  Without knowing the content of a possible UK-EU trade deal it is impossible to be certain about which goods will require an EHC.  However, this gives an indication of the goods which the UK currently exports to non-EEA countries and which require EHCs.  

  • MEAT – includes poultry, lamb, beef, pork, venison, goat; fresh, frozen, chilled and processed products (eg burgers, sausages, kebabs), meat flavourings, mechanically recovered meat and offal (eg liver, tripe) and other products (eg bovine hooves, chicken feet/wings/thighs).
  • DAIRY– includes milk, cream, whey powder, infant formula, yoghurt, ice cream, cheese, custard, rice pudding, ice cream, cooking sauces, baby food and formula, airline snacks, pizza and crisps. May be cow, sheep, goat or buffalo origin.
  • HIDES – including skins, leather, pelts, feathers, wool, lanolin and bristles. Origin may be cow, sheep, goat, pig, deer and avian.
  • EGGS – table eggs and egg products. This does not include hatching eggs that are dealt with under live animal exports.
  • GELATINE – including collagen and casings for human consumption, animal consumption, industrial use and also gelatine in tablet and capsule form.
  • PET FOOD – canned and dry pet food and animal feed in both raw ingredient form and final processed form. Also covers fish bait.
  • LABORATORY – culture media, blood products, test kits, serum, laboratory reagents and disaccharide sugars.
  • MISCELLANEOUS – a wide ranging section varying from antlers and bones, to ash, charcoal and used riding boots, with many in between.

On the need for EHCs after Brexit, AmiVet (a business which specialises in the export certification of animals and animal products) states:

“the requirement for export health certificates is uncertain and will depend on the terms of any free trade agreement reached. It is important to note that even where the EU currently has a FTA (eg Japan, Canada), EHCs are still required, although of course the volumes and types of goods sent are very different.  It is therefore very likely there will be an increase in EHC demand whatever the outcome

[…] However the clock is ticking and we are still awaiting confirmation such as the final format of the EHCs and guidance notes, as well as labelling requirements. We urgently need this to enable us to prepare, and to advise exporting companies how best to approach EU and NI exports in 2021 and beyond.”

In November 2020, the UK Government published over 150 EHCs for the export of animals and animal products from the UK to the EU from January 2021.  These can be downloaded at: The EHCs cover goods including meat, fish, poultry, eggs and dairy products. In November 2020, Scotland Food and Drink wrote to the Prime Minister about the potential impact of the end of the transition period including “the requirement to produce export health certificates”.

Giving evidence to the Parliament’s Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee in November 2020, John Davidson from Scotland Food and Drink set out the scale of the challenge in relation to EHCs which might be required following Brexit:

“The requirement to produce export health certificates is an enormous undertaking for the seafood sector and others. Excluding the salmon sector, many businesses really only supply the European market, so at the moment they do not have to produce export health certificates for their products that go to that market.

It is estimated that the number of export health certificates that are required will increase from zero at the moment to around 150,000 [per year]. Pressure will be put on businesses to produce and pay for those documents; pressure will also be put on local authorities—normally, the certificates are facilitated by local authority environmental health officers—to respond to that significant demand. Unfortunately, there is not sufficient capacity in the system to be able to respond as rapidly as the sector needs to get those certificates out.”

John Davidson told the Committee that the provision of EHCs for exports to the EU will fall to local authorities and Food Standards Scotland and set out some examples of the preparatory work taking place: 

“They are considering hub models, in which environmental health officers would be located in one place to facilitate the certificates. However, it is complicated. We have never really done this before at any scale, and businesses will rely on the certificates to ensure that their product gets to market when it needs to. Therefore, we are concerned that the system is not ready.”

What about composite products?

According to the UK Government, Composite food products are for human consumption only.  They contain a mix of:

  • processed products of animal origin (POAO)
  • plant products used as a main ingredient – not just added for flavouring or processing.

Examples are:

  • lasagne
  • pork pies
  • pepperoni pizza
  • cream liqueurs
  • chicken burritos.

These composite goods will also require an EHC for export to the EU from 1 January.  The EU does operate a system of exemptions for some composite products. 

Who signs an EHC?

All exporters require an official veterinarian or local authority inspector to approve all EHC applications.  This process is done in conjunction with the APHA who provide the vet or LA inspector with the EHC to sign and date. 

The vet must be an ‘official veterinarian’ (OV) – these are appointed by the (APHA) and are a fully qualified veterinary surgeon, who has undergone extensive extra training in export work. A list of official vets for Scotland are provided by the UK Government at:

It is also important that the EHC must travel with the consignment to the export destination. The goods must not be split up during transit. As well as needing an EHC for the country the goods are being exported to, they may also need an EHC for any country that they are travelling through. This is known as a transit EHC.

How much does an EHC cost?

The cost of an EHC varies.  The fee is paid by the exporting business.  Most local authorities don’t appear to provide details of the cost to obtain an EHC on their website.  However, Moray Council charge £60.90 for an EHC whilst Aberdeenshire Council has agreed to vary the fees on export health certificates for food producers when they begin exporting to the EU.  Guidance prepared by Food Standards Scotland in November 2015 set out the provision of EHCs by local authorities in Scotland at that time:

“Scottish environmental health teams issue over 5000 certificates per year to over 250 businesses (based on information obtained through surveys). The activity is concentrated in a number of authorities. Certificates are issued for around 45 different 3rd countries. Liaison with 3rd countries is carried out either directly or via the manufacturer/exporter. Many, but not all, LAs charge for the service with fees varying from around £17 to £71 per certificate.”

What are the implications for supermarkets transferring goods from Scotland to Northern Ireland?

Given the lack of clarity about any future UK-EU deal, it is still difficult to answer this question with certainty. However, given the range of animal and animal products which would require an EHC, it has the potential to have a significant impact on goods being transferred from Scotland to Northern Ireland by supermarkets for example. According to AmiVet, the following products are likely to need their own EHCs:

“As a rule of thumb – all meat goods and most other goods containing >50% POAO [products of animal origin] that are either not heat treated and/or are not shelf stable. So for example a supermarket shipping raw milk goods, pasteurised milk goods, eggs, poultry, fish, honey, beef, lamb, pork and composite products on one lorry may need 15 or even more EHCs just for that one lorry. If they ship 10 lorries a day, that could be 150 EHCs! If they have more than one consignee, this could be even more.”

Supermarkets in Northern Ireland recently called for a temporary exemption from health checks on certain food products entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain in order to prevent shortages there next year.


EHCs will not be the only new requirement or procedure necessary for animal and animal product exporters when the UK leaves the EU.  Other checks such as sanitary and phytosanitary checks will also be required on exports to the EU. 

Sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) requirements are measures designed to protect humans, animals, and plants from diseases, pests, or contaminants. Goods subject to these measures are food products, live animals, products of animal origin, animal feed as well as plants and plant products.

The new requirement for EHCs for animal and animal product exports is just one example of the new barriers which will face exporters to the EU when the transition period ends at 11pm on 31 December 2020. 

Iain McIver, SPICe Research