UK farmers sound alarm over lack of border controls

The UK government’s decision to delay post-Brexit checks on EU food imports is an “imminent accident”, agricultural, veterinary and meat industry groups have warned.

They have sounded the alarm after industry insiders revealed that the UK Food Standards Agency had recently warned pig farmers about illegal shipments of pork from Romania, a country in the EU. EU which is currently fighting an outbreak of African swine fever in its animals.

Zoe Davies, chief executive of the National Pig Association, a UK trade body, said an outbreak of African swine fever in the UK – potentially triggered by pigs being fed infected meat – would pose an existential threat to the industry, which exports to more than 40 countries. country and is worth £1.6 billion a year.

“We know this is an imminent accident because it’s an accident that has happened before,” she said. In 2000, an outbreak of a related disease, classical swine fever, was transmitted in Britain via infected pork products.

The UK government announced last month that it was delaying controls on EU agri-food imports for at least another 18 months, which Brexit Opportunities Minister Jacob Rees-Mogg said would allow consumers British people to save £1 billion a year.

He added that the decision, widely backed by Britain’s food import industry, was needed to ease the cost of living crisis. “Why add to the basic commodity costs of people’s lives?” said Rees-Mogg. “What is the risk of a fish finger?”

The agricultural and veterinary industries criticized Jacob Rees-Mogg’s announcement to delay border controls © Charlie Bibby/FT

But the British Veterinary Association, a trade body, called the decision ‘deeply wrong’ and urged ministers to ‘abandon’ their plans or risk causing ‘significant damage’ to the country’s food and farming industries.

James Russell, senior vice president of BVA, said the veterinary community remained “deeply concerned” about the risks posed by the delay in checks.

“No one is saying we should code individual fish sticks, but we need to know where these animal proteins come from and they are not going to expose UK stock to disease,” he added.

Russell said the UK’s departure from the EU meant Britain was no longer part of the bloc’s veterinary surveillance network and therefore did not receive vital information about disease outbreaks in member states too quickly than in the past.

In an example of a ‘near miss’ provided by a UK industry insider, a young German cow was discovered last year to be infected with bluetongue virus when she was sent for slaughter to Britain after injuring her leg in transit.

“The export regulations had not been properly complied with, but the case was [only] picked up because the animal got hurt,” the insider said. “We were very lucky.”

The UK government has said EU agri-food checks are unnecessary as the bloc continues to follow the same rules as before Brexit, but meat industry experts have warned that the lack of inspections was an invitation to smugglers.

Peter Hardwick, trade policy adviser for the British Meat Processors Association, an industry body, said that while some traders would appreciate the cost savings from the lack of border controls, the group shared farmers’ concerns and BVA regarding the risks of illegal meat imports.

“We are going to allow meat into the UK from the EU without any checks, and the reality is that people don’t always follow the rules, even in the EU, so there is a risk of [illegal] meat leaving Romania, Poland or Germany and heading for the [British] market,” he added.

The National Farmers’ Union said the decision to postpone checks on EU agri-food products was “staggering” and that the inspections were “absolutely crucial” to UK biosecurity. “We are really putting ourselves in danger,” NFU president Minette Batters said.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said the government has robust post-importation testing for diseases such as bluetongue.

Defra added that the government was designing a new post-Brexit import control regime with a target introduction date of late 2023.

“We are designing a global import control regime that is simple, efficient and safe to use and best suited to our own needs – while maintaining strict biosecurity controls on the most risky imports,” Defra said. .

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