Europe

‘Accident waiting to happen’ Brexit warning as farmers sound alarm over border checks

Lord Frost says Brexit protocol must go

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Farming, veterinary and meat industry groups have warned the delay is an “accident waiting to happen”. It comes as industry insiders revealed the UK Food Standards Agency had warned pig farmers of illegal shipments of pork meat coming to Britain from Romania.

The EU country is currently battling an outbreak of African swine fever in its animals.

Chief executive of the National Pig Association, Zoe Davies, told the FT an outbreak in the UK of African swine fever would pose an existential threat to the industry which exports to more than 40 countries and is worth £1.6billion a year.

She said: “We know that this is an accident waiting to happen, because it’s an accident that has already happened before.”

An outbreak of classical swine fever was transmitted to Britain via infected pork products in 2000.

The Government announced in April that it was delaying checks on imports of EU agrifood products for at least another 18 months.

Brexit opportunities minister Jacob Rees-Mogg said doing so would save UK consumers £1billion a year.

He added that the decision was also needed to help tackle the cost of living crisis.

The British Veterinary Association (BVA) described the move as deeply misguided.

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The trade body urged ministers to abandon their plans or risk causing significant damage to Britain’s food and farming industries.

James Russell, senior vice president of the BVA, said: “This move flies in the face not only of common sense, but also of the Government’s commitment to preserving high levels of animal and human health in the UK.

“Diseases such as African Swine Fever have already had a catastrophic impact on agriculture and animal health in parts of Europe and elsewhere globally.

“With the UK now being outside the EU’s integrated and highly responsive surveillance systems, we have repeatedly warned that delaying veterinary checks further could weaken vital lines of defence against future incursions.”

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One “near miss” reported by a UK industry insider involved a young cow from Germany which was discovered to have Bluetongue virus when it was sent for slaughter in Britain.

The insider told the FT: “The export regulations had not been properly complied with, but the case was [only] picked up because the animal injured itself. We were very lucky.”

The Government has said checks on EU agrifood products are unnecessary because the bloc continues to follow the same rules as before Britain left the EU.

Peter Hardwick, trade policy adviser for the British Meat Processors Association, said while some traders would welcome cost savings from the lack of border checks, the group shared the concerns of farmers and the BVA over the risks of illegal meat imports.

He said: “We are going to allow meat to come into the UK from the EU without any checks, and the reality is that people do not always follow the rules, even in the EU.

“Therefore there is a risk of [illegal] meat leaving Romania, Poland or Germany and finding its way on to the [British] market.”

The National Farmers Union described the decision to postpone checks on EU agrifood products as “astounding” and inspections were “absolutely crucial” to UK biosecurity.

NFU President Minette Batters said: “It is astounding that the government is taking such an unacceptable approach to critical checks for agri-food imports from the EU.

“These checks are absolutely crucial to the nation’s biosecurity, animal health and food safety and without them we really do leave ourselves at risk.”

“For the introduction of these checks to have been delayed three times was bad enough but to now have them essentially scrapped in favour of an unknown system is unacceptable.”

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said the Government had “robust”, post-import testing for diseases such as Bluetongue.

Defra added that the Government is designing a post-Brexit import control regime which it aimed to have up and running by the end of 2023.

A spokesperson said: “We are designing a global import controls regime that is simple, efficient and safe to use and which is best suited to our own needs – while also maintaining strict biosecurity controls on the highest risk imports.”

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