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Brexit: Scottish dog food firm relocates to France due to export red tape | Brexit

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The founder of a Scottish dog food business has told how Brexit forced him to move to France after his exports to the EU were halted because of the new trade barriers in place since 1 January.

After 10 weeks of daily calls and emails to government representatives, who he said were “absolutely terrible”, Antoon Murphy said he was left with no other option than to relocate or face losing the business.

“The trade deal they agreed at Christmas is very close to as good as no deal,” he said.

He set up Antos dog chew company in Ayrshire in 2005 and has grown it into a business with 19 staff and a turnover of more than £8m.

About 60% of his sales were dog chews made from deer antlers, a sustainable and safer alternative to the bones popular in the UK and across the EU.

Scottish pet food business owner Antoon Murphy at his post-Brexit premises near Chambéry in France
Scottish pet food business owner Antoon Murphy at his post-Brexit premises near Chambéry in France Photograph: Antoon Murphy

He told of being hit by a double Brexit whammy with new documentation needed to certify his products comply with EU food health and safety standards and a haulage industry that would not touch food exports from smaller businesses such as his.

He hit the first wall in January when he discovered the chews and other treats were classed as animal feed and each dispatch needed a health certificate.

Not only was it a £200 extra cost for each order, whether the consignment was worth £40,000 or £500, but the precise health certificate did not exist for antler chews and any other of his unusual products.

“Our products are quite niche and there is no specific health certificate for them,” he said. “It took us about 10 weeks of daily calls and emails with the Animal Health Agency to finally get somewhere in obtaining export health certificates for our products. They were absolutely terrible.”

After the breakthrough on health documents, his hopes were dashed again when he learned that no haulage firm would take pallets of his products because they deemed it “too risky”, with the threat of food being checked at the border in Calais delaying the entire truck.

“We decided that enough was enough and have now set up a new company in France to service all of our export sales,” said Murphy.

He and his wife moved to a small town east of Lyon and have set up a new business, Nova Dog Chews, to fulfil European orders.

“We started shipping today,” Murphy said. “To be honest our customers are glad they don’t have to deal with the UK company and more dealing with customs declarations and agents.”

While his company continues in Ayrshire to supply the UK market, the expansion in Europe will cost the UK. “This move will obviously mean a loss in tax revenue, jobs and investment in the UK economy,” he said.

His experience echoes that of many small business exporting food, including the Cheshire Cheese Company which last week told of its despair with the government, which had advised it to seek business in the US and Canada to make up for the closure of its online retail business in the EU.

Research from the shipping company Forward2me shows door-to-door transport times between the UK and the EU doubled in January.

Goods took an average of eight days instead of four, with Greece taking 17 days, France 7.5 days and Germany 10 days. In February it took even longer in some cases, with goods taking 13 days to get to Germany.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said the government was “aware of the challenges faced by hauliers moving mixed loads of products of animal origin and other commodities to the EU” because of Brexit and was working on central health certification and other measures which would help exporters “more easily consolidate them at a single point of dispatch and group products” on to a smaller number of health certificates.

“All exports of products of animal origin to the EU – including many pet foods – now require an export health certificate (EHC) signed by an official certifier. We’ve always been clear that there would be new processes for traders, and we continue to support them in their transition to these new arrangements,” a spokesman for Defra said.

It added that had tripled the number of official vets qualified to sign off the EHCs and was continuing work with EU member states to improve border issues.

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