Shortage of vets could hit animal export trade to EU

A host of food and transport logistic bodies this week came together to call on the UK government to take urgent action to support exporters of ‘Products of Animal Origin’ to the EU when the transition period ends in three weeks’ time.

And despite promises made yesterday by cabinet minister Michael Gove that supermarkets would be spared disruption to the movement of foods such as British sausages and chilled meat to Northern Ireland, the group sent a stark warning that if the current shortage of vets required to certify exports continues, the export trade of products of animal origin could drop by 50-75%.

The group, , which includes the largest beef, lamb, pork and chicken processors in the UK, also highlighted the hidden damage which they claimed the new customs certification process would inflict on exporters of these products regardless of whether or not a trade deal was agreed with EU.

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A total of 29 bodies signed the joint letter to Defra Secretary of State George Eustice expressing their fears that chaos would ensue at ports and border posts due to the lack of preparedness within government agencies which should be playing a key role in supporting food exporters.

They also stated that despite being told by Government to prepare for Brexit, companies could not begin to implement new systems and IT upgrades until the Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed released the details after a meeting which does not take place until Dec 18:

“This gives companies 6 working days over the busiest week of the year to implement whatever is necessary before 1 January,” warned the letter.

The group called on the Government to dramatically increase the level of resources available for the export sector to simplify the export process, demanding that official veterinarians (OVs) received both proper instruction and financial support to play a direct role in aiding the export certification process.

They also called on the Animal and Plant Health Authority (APHA) to significantly simplify the guidance for OVs and for clarification on which roles required a vet and which could be done by an appropriately trained and supervised ‘Certification Support Officer’.

*And Scotland’s rural economy secretary, Fergus Ewing yesterday added his tuppenceworth, reiterating his fears over the financial and administrative burden the anticipated increase in demand for Export Health Certificates (EHCs) would place on fish, seafood and meat exporters - and called once again on the UK Government to ask the EU for a derogation from the requirement.

Ewing made it plain to the UK Government that Scotland had done all it could to oil the wheels of export – but said it was “difficult to avoid the impression” that the UK Government was seeking to attribute ‘blame’ to the Scottish Government and Scottish local authorities for some perceived lack of preparedness:

“As I made absolutely clear in the most recent meeting of the Defra/Devolved Administration Inter-Ministerial Group, any such suggestion is simply untrue and warrants a full rebuttal.”