Cows cattle

New Defra rules now require additional sign-off from a vet before an export health certificate can be granted 

New export rules could render a vast amount of British meat exports to the EU non-compliant overnight, the meat industry has warned.

Pre-export requirements are set to change from a farmer declaration to a veterinary attestation with immediate effect on 13 December, under a new Defra animal health documentation policy.

Industry figures warned a change of that magnitude would normally take up to a year to implement.

The rapid move could lead to livestock being devalued, a loss of EU export markets and a host of supply chain issues, experts said.

Nick Allen, CEO of the British Meat Processors Association, branded the policy change a “completely unnecessary” piece of “British-built bureaucracy”.

Until May this year, the evidence that these vet inspections visits had taken place could be provided by farmers supplying a farmer declaration, in a move that had been previously agreed with Defra and the FSA.

But under the new process, all farms not covered by a UK farm assurance scheme will need to use a vet to sign the new animal health documents.

Failure to do so will stop them obtaining an export health certificate.

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“A farm should have a visit from the vet once a year and no one is disputing that. It is about how you go about proving that at the point of export and what they have come up with is a paper-based system which we as an industry think is unworkable,” Allen added.

In practice, this will require each part of an animal to be accompanied by paperwork approving a vet visit ahead of any export, Allen explained – even though the EU only requires verification of a vet visit in the past year, and does not specify how the certification was carried out, with EU rules stating a farmer-signed document would be enough to verify the vet’s visit.

The rapid increase in paperwork caused by the new rules could lead to some of the larger abattoirs turning away animals from non-assured farms, Allen suggested.

There are currently around 72,500 sheep holdings and 54,500 cattle holdings in Great Britain, of which there are 27,566 beef and 20,361 lamb Red Tractor assured holdings.

It comes as a group of UK meat associations, of which the BMPA is part of, this week wrote a letter to minister for food Mark Spencer to outline their concerns around the new rule and to call for it to be postponed.

In the letter, the group warned that “thousands of farmers will see their livestock considerably devalued as they will be denied access to the export market. At least part of almost every animal in the country gets exported, even if it is only the skin or hide, which has significant value”.

The issue was compounded by ongoing vet shortages, meaning that should the Defra policy come into place there would likely be a “bottleneck and farmers will be left waiting a considerable amount of time before a vet will be available to perform the new checks and issue the paperwork required to keep the supply chain moving”, the letter added.

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The meat organisations have suggested the new policy should only be implemented through a digital solution, based on holding the information on a database such as the Livestock Information Programme. They asked that that until that was a viable solution the current approach of farmer declarations should continue to be accepted.

“Far from reducing red tape as this government aims to do, this plan will add even more and cost British producers dear,” the letter said.

The organisations have offered to meet with the government to discuss the problem so that it can “consider intervening to avoid the damage that will occur”.

In response, a Defra spokesman said: “Businesses exporting goods from GB to the EU are required by the EU to use Export Health Certificates (EHCs) signed by an official vet. This requirement is set by the EU and is not within the control of the UK government.

“However, we are aware of the concerns raised by industry about the process of providing evidence of regular vet visits. We are engaging with businesses and the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons to try and ease the burden on exporters in meeting these EU requirements.”