Swine fever risk if UK waives controls on imports from EU, say vets | Brexit
Government plans to remove border controls on goods from the EU – including food and livestock – will put the country at risk of importing devastating infectious diseases such as African swine fever and worsening the severe damage to British trade caused by Brexit.
The double warning was issued by the British Veterinary Association (BVA) as ministers consider another postponement of post-Brexit inspections due to fears that checks could slow down supply chains, increase bureaucracy and raise prices in stores at a time when UK consumers are already facing a cost of living crisis.
The already long-delayed rules, including the requirement for veterinary certificates and possible spot checks after arrival, were to be phased in from July 1.
Tough new rules on imports were first hailed by Brexiteers as examples of how leaving the EU would allow the UK to “take back control” of its borders.
But now, with growing evidence that Brexit is hurting trade, senior government officials, led by Brexit Opportunities Minister Jacob Rees-Mogg, have changed tack and decided that less rather than more control was needed over imports in order to speed up the flow of goods and reduce costs.
But the relaxation of animal safety standards is worrying both UK vets and many in the farming community.
James Russell, the senior vice-president of the BVA, told the Observer he would sound the alarm when he testified this month before MPs on the international trade select committee.
Russell said abandoning controls would not only endanger animal health and have serious consequences for UK biosecurity, but would also undermine the UK’s reputation for high animal and food safety standards, which in turn could damage the trust foreign companies have in British products.
He said: “If these controls are abandoned, there is a potential risk of an incursion of African swine fever which is spreading rapidly and has already had a catastrophic impact on animal health and the agricultural industry in parts of the country. Europe, Asia and Africa.
“Official veterinarians working at the border act as the nation’s first line of biosecurity defense, and we believe it would be deeply wrong to push the need for these vital checks even further and, in doing so, weaken this layer of protection for both animals and public health.”
According to the World Organization for Animal Health, African swine fever is “responsible for massive losses in pig populations and dramatic economic consequences” and “has become a major crisis for the pig industry in recent years”. Currently affecting several regions of the world and without an effective vaccine, the disease not only hampers animal health and welfare, but also has detrimental effects on biodiversity and the livelihoods of farmers.
Russell added that if food substances were imported into the UK without any trace of their origin and were then included in a ‘hybrid’ product – such as pizza – that product would become more difficult to export to markets such as the EU. where all the details of the origins of the products are needed.
A further delay, however, will certainly be welcomed by many UK businesses who are already struggling with food supply chain problems made worse by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
James Withers, chief executive of Scotland Food and Drink, told the FinancialTimes last week that a decision to delay checks again would however infuriate UK exporters who had faced mountains, paperwork and extra costs since the UK left the single market on 1 January of last year.
“There is no doubt that this will stick in the throats of many exporters who have now been 15 months navigating a tsunami of paperwork that our EU competitors do not face.”
Ministers are aware that the UK’s trade performance has not recovered from the pandemic nearly as quickly as other major economies according to recent data, with many blaming Brexit. The Office for Budget Responsibility sticks to its prediction that leaving the EU will cause UK imports and exports to fall altogether by 15% compared to if it had remained inside the EU. block. Last week, Chancellor Rishi Sunak told the Treasury Select Committee that the UK’s poor trade performance against other G7 countries “may well be” due to Brexit.