Implications of Brexit on the animal science sector

BSAS Vice-President Kim Matthews discusses the implications and fallout of Brexit on the animal science sector, and what the future holds going forward
calendar icon 12 February 2021
clock icon 5 minute read

Matthews began by reflecting on the widespread relief that was felt when a trade deal was finally reached on Christmas eve, and while he agrees it was positive, it’s important to be aware that it’s not business as usual. As we are no longer part of the single market, there will inevitably be frictions around trade at the borders, especially with regards to animal products, where there are stringent health regulations in place, which all add to the cost and time it takes for the transition of products across the border.

Although the initial teething issues experienced soon after the deal was struck, such as the port delays have now been resolved, Matthews was keen to highlight that it will still take longer to cross the border due to the rules around ensuring that food of animal origin being transported, is healthy and nutritious, which adds an additional burden to the animal product sector, with regards to health certification. He also drew attention to the various anomalies that the new legislation brings, due to the stipulation that a product has to go through a certain amount of processing to be exempt from tariffs. So, for example if you were to take milk from the EU and turn it into cheese that would be sufficient processing, but if you took beef from another state, minced it and sent it back, this would attract tariffs, as it hasn’t gone through a sufficient degree of processing. Matthews says that it is crucial that these anomalies and disruptions to the food chain are ironed out quickly over the coming weeks and months.

When focusing on the sectors in which he specialises – beef and lamb, Matthews said that although the trade effects have been less troublesome than if we had had a no deal scenario, the frictions that have arisen will cause additional costs, making them less competitive. Although how great the impact is remains to be seen. Matthews also made mention of the fact that leaving the EU means leaving the Common Agricultural policy, meaning direct support will slowly start to be withdrawn, so at farm level it will be important to concentrate on delivering efficiencies and sustainable economic viability for farms. This is also where Matthews says animal science has an important part to play, especially applied animal science which many of the Society’s members are involved in, with a focus on helping to reduce costs, improve health and welfare and nutrition of animals and deliver better genetics, all of which can contribute to more financial stability for farmers.

Looking forward to the future, while it is not currently possible to comment on the positive benefits of Brexit, there is some encouraging discussion by the Government on new breeding technologies, such as gene editing, and how these might be treated under national legislation and how this would differ from the EU, which may provide more opportunities for technology to be used that was not allowed previously.

Drawing on the way his own organisation works, the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board, Matthews says it is important that animal scientists and technologists remain focused on providing objective evidence and doing good science, that provides robust data and evidence to support decisions that other policy makers and politicians make. They should remain objective about the politics but be clear that the science they do needs to be robust and evidence based.

British Association of Animal Science

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