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What is going on with Brexit and our Farming Regulation?

View profile for Paul Burkinshaw
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What is going on with Brexit and our Farming Regulation?

Despite tumultuous world events, post-Brexit negotiations have been ploughing on, including those in the agricultural sector. In the background British farmers have continued to fight their corner, seeking to protect the industry from a drop in food standards that might otherwise undermine our home produced product. Their concerns are not just the agreements with our near neighbours in Europe but also the world at large with whom ‘free trade’ is to be negotiated.

If regulation of production and husbandry are different regulations then inequality of access to the market will follow. A brief dance through the US Food Standards is something of an eye opener. Standards where “acceptable levels” of rat hairs in Paprika and maggots in Orange Juice are written into regulation make the mind boggle.

Last week saw what NFU President, Minette Batters, has described as a “hugely important development” in the announcement by Liz Truss of a Trade and Agriculture Commission to advise Ministers on the UK’s approach to post Brexit trade agreements.  The Commission will scrutinise proposed trade deals to ensure our own food standards are not undermined. Whilst this seemingly delivers direct input into negotiations, a note of caution is that nothing on standards would appear legally enforceable.

British farmers are rightly proud of their produce and the associated food standards. Regulation, however, can also have unintended adverse effects upon certain sectors of agriculture. Meat processing is such an example and continues to see contraction with the closure of smaller, high quality and compassionate abattoirs.

Such local processors have found it increasingly difficult to afford the regulation that has been imposed upon them. The loss of such local processors leads to reliance on larger processing plants more able to absorb the cost of regulation associated with veterinary and food health officers being on site at all times.

Whilst farmers support regulation, the practical consequences can sometimes be a shift in the way in which parts of the system function which is not always for the better. With regulation and oversight comes a need for common sense and flexibility to ensure that high quality local services are not lost.

So, looking ahead it will be important to ensure our existing standards should not be undermined but also that they have impact that is intended. As a parting shot, I would confirm that in the United States a 25g bottle of Paprika is allowed up to 11 rodent hairs, whilst 1 maggot is permitted per 250ml of Orange Juice!

This article first appeared in the Yorkshire Post Country Post supplement on 11 July 2020

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