British Livestock Sector fears No Deal Brexit

22nd January 2019

The British livestock sector is increasingly concerned about the prospect of a No Deal Brexit, the lack of preparedness for it, and the damage it would do to UK livestock farming and especially the sheep sector.

At a meeting on Friday of the main trade associations involved in Livestock production in the UK at the UK Livestock Brexit Group (UKLBG) major concerns were raised about the prospect of a No Deal Brexit and what would happen. It was clear from the questions being asked and the concerns being raised that at this stage the UK is not adequately prepared to avoid serious trade disruption. Government systems are not fully in place and there is still an absence of practical contingency plans. The fear is that it could lead to massive disruption in the supply chain. With UK poultry, pork, lamb and beef exports to the EU representing a vital part of producer returns, failure to maintain these export markets could see a collapse in values, increased costs, and possibly result in animal welfare issues on farm.

The group has undertaken to seek assurances and answers from Government and has requested a meeting with Ministers to highlight their concerns. It also plans, at the earliest opportunity, to bring the industry together to develop a crisis plan.

The Sheep sector is particularly vulnerable because it is highly dependent on the French export market and the prospects of large tariffs being imposed under WTO rules would mean that the UK would lose market share or suffer a huge downturn in farmgate prices,pushing an already vulnerable sector into rapid decline.

Concern was raised about the UK’s preparedness for maintaining existing and establishing new export markets outside the EU. It is not known how many 3rd countries will accept UK product from the UK once we exit the EU. Very few 3rd countries have confirmed that they will accept product from UK plants. Exporters have had no clarity as to what certification will be needed for EU trade and what any transitional timescales might be, or whether any changed health mark will be accepted in approval listings and on labels/products. There are still questions about the administrative resources being able to cope, and if there will be enough veterinary resource.

The deadline for answers is now upon us, with UK meat processors already producing under current EU controls with EU health marks and approvals (including for non-EU countries) based on EU regs/rules. This product might be frozen and shipped around the world (taking between 5 and 7 weeks for deliveries to Asia) over the coming days/weeks and arriving at destination after 29 March 2019.

Chris Dodds of The Livestock Auctioneers Association and Chair of the Brexit Group said afterwards ‘’There are clearly a lot of things that need doing in a short space of time, it is extremely concerning and the industry desperately needs answers.’’

Phil Stocker of the National Sheep Association said ‘’we have always known that the sheep sector is particularly vulnerable in a No Deal scenario, but with 2 months to go before we could potentially crash out with No Deal it is very sobering to discover how much still needs doing. For trade to continue new processes and systems need to be put in place and it is difficult to see that they are going to be ready in time. Sadly, we are now into contingency and crisis planning, even though we have been raising these issues for some time.’’

Michael Gove made it clear at the Oxford Farming Conference that a No Deal Brexit would be bad for farming and the livestock sector. The group felt that whilst there was clearly an awareness of the danger there seemed to be very little sign of any planning to deal with the worst-case scenario.

Chris Dodds of The Livestock Auctioneers Association and Chair of the Brexit Group
Chris Dodds of The Livestock Auctioneers Association and Chair of the Brexit Group