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UK continues to struggle with post-Brexit regulations, with animal agriculture among worst hit sectors

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3 min read
AUTHOR: Molly Long
woman in vet white coat crouches down in a barn while tending to rows of cows

The UK is still struggling to keep up with its regulatory responsibilities almost two years after leaving the European Union, according to a House of Commons Public Accounts Committee investigation.

Staff shortages remain within crucial areas of the regulatory framework, the Regulating After EU Exit report found.

In particular, there are still not enough vets, toxicologists, lawyers and economists to deal with the UK’s status as a ‘third country’. A third country is defined as any country outside of the EU and its economic structures – that is, the single market and customs union.

Post-Brexit farm regulations are among the worst affected by the staff shortages. This is because of a new veterinary certification needed for those working with exports, the report said.

Additionally, if the budget cuts suggested in last year’s spending review are enacted, the committee warned of even further detriment to the food industry. Such cuts could result in headcount being reduced by up to 40%.

“Any future requirement to reduce its number of veterinarians would have a significant impact on the meat industry which, under current regulations, cannot place meat on the market in the UK or export it without veterinary oversight,” the authors wrote. “Regulatory reform to adopt a more risk-based approach could reduce the need for veterinarians, but this would require legislative change.”

Poor preparation and planning have been cited by Dame Meg Hillier, the Labour MP who chairs the committee, as overarching reasons why the UK has so far struggled with its regulation.

The EU already condemned the UK’s border controls earlier this year as not fit for purpose, owing to staff shortages, failure to carry out adequate checks and a number of bureaucratic issues like labelling and fee charging.

Though food, competition and chemicals regulators are now making some progress with their international counterparts, the report also found that the loss of EU data systems was weighing heavily on the UK.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA), for example, has lost full access to the EU’s rapid alert system for food and animal feed. This system provides up-to-date information on food safety alerts to member states.

Working outside of this system “[increases] the time and effort it takes to deal with food safety incidents,” the report explained, adding that developing a post-Brexit equivalent for UK regulations would be costly.

Finally, the report warned of the potential disruption that regulatory divergence could bring. It used the recent example of the food additive titanium dioxide – the EU has recently banned the usage of the ingredient, owing to it possibly being carcinogenic, but the UK has not followed suit. The FSA has said it will conduct its own risk assessment. Another example mentioned is that of gene editing for crops, which the UK Government has taken strides to legalise this year.

“Regulatory divergence between the UK and the EU and within the UK internal market risks increasing costs for businesses,” the report said. Its recommendation was that “regulators should put in place robust monitoring to keep track of regulatory divergence and its implications, particularly for small businesses.”

Looking ahead, Hillier recommended regulators “work together on ways to address the loss of regulatory cooperation arrangements with the EU”. She added that in six months, the committee expects a progress report on how post-Brexit regulations set out in the Trade and Cooperation Agreement are being taken forward.

Issues relating to regulations and trade deals in a post-Brexit world have prompted some to worry about food standards in the UK. Understand the issue by listening to this episode of the Food Matters Live Podcast:

How post-Brexit trade deals could affect UK food standards


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