EU rules designed to prevent diseases in the UK’s plants and animals will still have to be followed after Brexit, a report has concluded.
The House of Lords European Union committee identified seven areas where Brexit could compromise the UK’s biosecurity and urged the government to work faster to ensure trade can flow and the country’s high standards can be maintained.
Its report said: “Geographical proximity means that the EU will always be a key source of biosecurity risks to the UK, and so shared intelligence and continuing co-operation post-Brexit will be essential.”
Lord Teverson from the committee told Sky News: “When it comes to biosecurity, I’d say they (farmers) want to be as close to the EU as possible.
“It is going to be a balance between how fast trade can flow and how much we make sure that biosecurity is at the top of the agenda.
“The real issue is if we have a ‘no-deal’ Brexit when all of those contacts, systems, research, sharing of information, are suddenly shut off on 29 March 2019, that would be the real challenge in terms of biosecurity and getting those ports still to flow in terms of imports and exports.”
Another area of concern was a shortage of vets to carry out inspections for livestock being moved in or out of the country.
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Lord Teverson added: “We have a shortage already, and many of those staff are non-UK EU citizens. Persuading them to stay after a no-deal Brexit will be quite difficult in sufficient numbers.”
In his milking parlour, dairy farmer David Brookes recalls vividly the 2001 foot and mouth outbreak that meant he had to cull his healthy herd of cattle near Uttoxeter in Staffordshire.
Six million animals were slaughtered nationally and the disease is estimated to have cost the economy £8bn.
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Having rebuilt his family business since then, Mr Brookes said he is ready to continue following EU biosecurity rules even though he voted Leave in the 2016 referendum.
He told Sky News: “If we are going to be trading with Europe we have to adhere to some of those rules but I think we have to interpret the rules that work for this country to ensure that we have got the best biosecurity measures in place once we leave Europe.
“We need to be sure we aren’t importing animal diseases or plant diseases.”
On his poultry farm near Lymm in Cheshire, Duncan Priestner, a member of the NFU poultry board, told Sky News that biosecurity concerns were just one part of the unfinished Brexit puzzle for British farmers.
He said welfare standards and trading arrangements are both still areas of concern, adding: “If you suddenly open your doors and let produce into this country that has been produced to a lower standard at a slightly cheaper cost that will be totally unfair to British farming.”
A spokesperson for the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: “The government’s ability to protect the country from pests and diseases will not be compromised once we leave the EU, nor will we stop sharing information with European or other global partners. To do so would be in nobody’s interests.
“All countries that are members of the World Organisation for Animal Health are required to report any listed animal disease within 24 hours of a disease being confirmed.
“We will also remain part of plant information-sharing networks, such as European and Mediterranean Plant Protection Organisation (EPPO).”