Comment: EU border rules mean avian flu is causing more problems than ever before

By Richard Griffiths, chief executive, British Poultry Council

At first glance you may not think that avian influenza would have much to do with the farrago that is currently trade with the EU. In amongst the confiscation of ham sandwiches, the wrong colour stamps on forms, and the sheer contrariness of some border officials it is no wonder that bird flu has not made the news. Yet many BPC members would say that the trade impact of bird flu has been one of the most frustrating and damaging issues since 1 January.

In the event of a bird flu incident in a third country, the EU immediately ceases all poultry related trade with that nation. The Commission then votes to recognise regionalisation in that country, so that trade is only restricted from the specific region where the bird flu incident has occurred. For every single incident, the EU ports are immediately closed to trade until the vote is taken. With credit to the Commission, it has always conducted the vote astonishingly quickly, but every case has suspended trade for 24 to 36 hours.

That is a day of lost trade, of lorries turned around or held in ports, of confusion and delay, of damage to businesses, and ultimately of food waste.

The UK is now a third country to the EU. We knew the rules before we left but our Government neglected this issue despite our warnings. Just as they are now neglecting all the problems around trade with the EU. To them the empty lorries are ‘successful journeys’ and the rotting food is just ‘teething troubles’.

This could all be mitigated through a bilateral UK-EU agreement on Sanitary and Phyto-Sanitary measures. The TCA itself calls for co-operation in the development of standards and guidelines, and that SPS measures should not create unnecessary barriers to trade. It seems like good sense so what is stopping us? Well, it would require two things that go contrary to the ideology of Brexit. First an acknowledgement that this is not what was promised, and second that it would need to create dynamic alignment in regulation. 

We have left the EU but what we are doing now is self-inflicted damage on British businesses that are trying to make the best of a bad situation. We need our Government to take their heads out of their sunlit uplands, have an ounce of self-reflection and humility, and help us feed the nation.

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