The Government’s decision to scrap plans to introduce import checks on animals and animal products coming into the UK from July 1 has been heavily criticised by leading veterinary and farming bodies.
The criticism follows a written ministerial statement issued by Brexit Opportunities Minister Jacob Rees-Mogg, minister for Brexit opportunities, which said that no further import controls on EU goods will be introduced this year.
He claimed introducing the checks ‘would have been an act of self-harm’, imposing new burdens and risking disruption at ports, ‘as British businesses and people are being hit by rising costs’. He said move would save British businesses up £1 billion per year.
However, the UK’s largest veterinary body, the British Veterinary Association (BVA) has repeatedly warned that delaying checks for what would be the fourth time could have serious implications for animal health and British agriculture, and open up a threat of the incursion of diseases such as African Swine Fever.
“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,” said James Russell, BVA senior vice president.
“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.
“To remove the requirement for checks entirely appears deeply misguided; we urge the Government to abandon these plans and close off the threat of causing significant damage to our food and farming industries.
“If not, the Government must urgently set out how it will safeguard animal health and welfare in the UK in the coming months.”
UK food exporters have faced additional costs, disruption and delays as a result of new EU checks and requirements, including documentation, on exports since January 2021, resulting in a significant drop in EU trade. In the first two months of this year, UK pork exports to the EU remained well down on 2020 and 2019 levels.
NPA chief executive Zoe Davies said: “Not only does this extend these grossly unfair trading conditions at a time when the pig sector desperately needs fairness and a level playing field, it exposes the farming industry to potentially devastating diseases like ASF.”
The NFU described the decision as ‘unacceptable’ and said it will result in another significant blow for British farm businesses already facing unprecedented rising costs.
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.
“This is a question of fairness. Our producers have to meet stringent controls to export their own products abroad, all while being left at a continued competitive disadvantage to our EU competitors, who are still enjoying an extended grace period which gives them access to the prized UK market relatively cost and burden free.
“The government has said that controls will be delayed until a digital solution is created and so we now need to see urgent and cast-iron guarantees that it will provide the resources to implement this digital solution as soon as possible and ensure it is robust. Waiting until 2023, or beyond, would simply be too late.”