Comment: Breeding companies in GB are suffering because of the Brexit agreement

By Mark Williams, chief executive, British Egg Industry Council

The lifting of the requirement to house poultry flocks across GB and Northern Ireland was welcome news for the industry – after around 16 weeks of keeping hens inside. The UK Government, Scottish Government, and Welsh Government will conduct a review, via a risk assessment, in early May to determine if the Avian Influenza Prevention Zone (AIPZ) can be lifted. It is important to remember that there has been over 1,500 HPAI outbreaks in commercial and backyard poultry flocks across the EU, more than the previous outbreak in 2016-17.

Therefore, the BEIC has been relentless in our rhetoric around biosecurity – throughout the supply chain. This will require all poultry, and captive bird keepers to keep an eye out for any signs of disease, or changes in behaviour. If any is detected, they should seek advice from a vet as soon as possible, record the symptoms or behaviours, and if they match that of AI, report the information to APHA.

In other good news, the European Parliament has overwhelmingly voted in favour of the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement, but branded Brexit an ‘historic mistake’. The agreement was backed by 660 votes to five, making the deal now official – despite the accord being provisionally in effect since 1 January 2021. There was some political resistance from MEPs initially, particularly over the UK Government’s actions in Northern Ireland, accusing the UK of not implementing its side of the Brexit Agreement.

Even though the trade agreement is now officially in place that allows for quota and tariff free access to the EU’s Single Market, the UK now has a more limited relationship than when it was inside the EU – not surprising! These difficulties have manifested themselves in various forms of red tape and difficulties around SPS rules, that brings added costs to all sectors, including our own.

The BEIC recently submitted evidence on these issues to an inquiry led by the International Trade Committee on the UK-EU trade relationship. This follows on from a meeting between the Chair of the International Trade Committee and the BEIC, to discuss issues around breeding stock and export of day-old chicks, caused by the UK now being classed as a ‘third country’ by the EU.

These changes have proved to be incredibly challenging for breeding companies based in the GB, acting as a huge disincentive for investment in this sector, for at least the short to medium term. We emphasised in our engagement with the select committee, and subsequent written evidence, that there is appetite both within the GB laying sector, and as well as with counterparts across the EU and NI to resolve these issues. This could be by several means, one of which is a SPS agreement with the EU, or direct engagement relating to the Trade Control and Expert System (TRACES) and export via the Intra Trade Animal Health Certificates (ITAHC) system, which is currently used by non-EU member states such as Norway.

Last month, the BEIC backed petition calling on supermarkets to stop using imported eggs in their pre-prepared foods such as quiches, salads, cakes, or egg sandwiches, that do not meet British Lion safety standards, has reached over 20,000 signatures.

The level of support the petition has gained to date should demonstrate to retailers that their consumers want them to be not only transparent about the origin of the products they use in their pre-prepared foods, but that they want to see retailers backing British farming and supporting the British Lion.

The petition can be found here: https://www.change.org/p/aldi-supermarkets-should-use-british-eggs-for-foods-made-in-britain-and-stop-importing-eggs

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