Bird flu is creating major barriers for Britain’s food heroes. The solution is simple – a mutually beneficial UK-EU veterinary agreement on sanitary and phytosanitary rules on movements of animals and food products between Britain and the EU.
A whole year later and the reality of being a third country is biting hard. Since the implementation of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement in January 2021, Britain’s food producers have gone to extraordinary lengths to adjust, often encountering ‘teething problems’ in the form of delays to cross border trade and increased costs with our largest and most vital trading partner.
A unique challenge the poultry industry faces is bird flu, arguably the largest threat to the entire industry. Now, we all know that the control of exotic disease should never be caught up in the Brexit debate. Britain continues to fulfil its international obligations on the control of bird flu, but the real-world impact of Brexit means that bird flu comes at far greater a commercial impact than ever, jeopardising our ability to keep the flow of food moving at the levels necessary.
When bird flu is found in an area, it is put into a control zone. These zones last for a period of 90 days. Since Britain is now a third country to the EU, controls dictate that no meat from birds within those zones – and as of 15th January 2022 meat having ‘passed through’ them – can be exported into the EU during that 90 day period. In large rural areas like Yorkshire and Leicestershire, where disease is in high concentration, these 90 day zones end up overlapping, a consequence of which is that producers end up trapped in restrictions despite potentially having no cases of flu on their site. This jeopardises their ability to transport birds to slaughter within the UK or meat for export into the EU. With restrictions layering up, and with controls articulating that birds with no flu might not be able to be transported through a zone that covers main roads and motorways, there seems to be no end in sight for producers facing controls – controls that do not exist for EU members.
The problem is what these controls represent. We will continue to fulfil obligations on disease control and do everything possible to tackle the toughest outbreak of disease the industry has ever seen (77 cases at time of writing) but we must also get food to where it needs to be. Controls must be risk-based and not pose a risk to bird welfare or compromise our ability to keep food moving. Equivalence is necessary to time-sensitive, agile trade. It has to be fair and it has to be balanced. This is a business-critical issue that is creating major barriers for Britain’s food heroes, the solution for which is a mutually beneficial UK-EU veterinary agreement on sanitary and phytosanitary rules on movements of animals and food products between Britain and the EU.
Businesses and trade flourish where there is trust. If Britain’s poultry producers did not already have enough on their plate already with Covid and labour shortages, they most certainly do now with the unprecedented scale of this year’s bird flu outbreak combined with Brexit technicalities. Fortunately, the solution is pretty clear. Negotiating a form of mutual veterinary agreement will ease problems we currently face with the EU, not to mention from the EU to Britain when import controls take effect later this year. Until that is agreed upon, we can expect ‘teething problems’ to bite into the viability of exporting poultry meat producers until there is nothing left to chew.
This column was published in the Jan/Feb edition of Meat Management Magazine.