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Ed's Brexit round-up

1st Dec 2017 / By Ed Barker

This week has been quite interesting for me personally and for the NPA. On Tuesday I gave evidence to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ (EFRA) Select Committee in parliament in a session that included the British Poultry Council, Tulip and Cargill.

Ed EFRASelect Committees are part of our democratic system; in short they are comprised of backbench MPs, and the scrutinise the policies and work of UK Government Departments. Each Department will have its own corresponding Committee. Membership is usually balanced, with party representation roughly equalling each share of party MPs in Westminster.  

So what did we discuss? Well, the Committee was very keen to understand how Brexit had affected pig businesses before it had even started, how the UK can build on its excellent work in exporting outside of the European Union, and the main impediments to improving productivity. A varied session you might say, but we certainly were not rushed through our answers and I was able to give a thorough account of the unique challenges that face our sector. Key points I made to the Committee were:

  • Securing EU market access was vital for carcase balance, but this need for market access is reciprocated by European exporters;
  • We need to know what assessment DEFRA and the Dept for International trade have made of keeping the same kind of barriers in place as the EU does for non-EU imports on pork;
  • Brexit gives us an opportunity to rationalise EU regulations such as IPPC, and also allows us to block imports from anywhere in the EU that is an ASF risk;
  • If MPs and DEFRA really are interested in extending exports to non-EU countries then it needs to take ASF seriously;
  • The USA is a serious exporter, ramping up production, and actively identifying UK markets without moving on its own standards
  • UK pig producers are not prepared to lower standards after Brexit (other sectors have, worryingly, intimated that they would)
  • There are many areas of productivity that can be assisted by Government irrespective of Brexit!

MPs on the committee were especially interested to hear about planning constraints on both pig and poultry sectors; I was keen to stress that environmental permitting was a key problem as part of this lack of growth. Some interesting challenges were asked of us: how can industry help promote itself outside of EU markets? Should labelling be extended to restaurant and catering trade? These are issues we can talk away with you as members.

On the back of this, we know that further work is going to be done on migrant labour, which is good for us, following our member survey last month. So watch this space.

For those of you lucky enough to live in East Anglia, you may have seen that the Committee session was also covered on BBC Look East at 6.30 and 10.15pm – for some reason I was introduced as a Suffolk Pig Farmer, which gave the whole family a good laugh.

When a transcript is available we will post it here!

And finally...

One MP did ask if, with the drive towards automation, we should consider replacing MPs with automated machines.

The panel was conspicuously quiet to respond.