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No-deal Brexit could leave organic farms at export ‘cliff edge’, says NFU

PUBLISHED: 15:19 23 August 2018 | UPDATED: 16:03 23 August 2018

Organic food producers could face a 'cliff edge' in the event of a no-deal Brexit, said the NFU. Picture: Ian Burt

Organic food producers could face a 'cliff edge' in the event of a no-deal Brexit, said the NFU. Picture: Ian Burt

Organic food producers could face a “cliff edge” preventing exports to the EU in the event of a no-deal Brexit, farming leaders have warned.

According to technical guidance published by the government, UK growers would only be allowed to export to the EU if they were certified by an organic control body approved by the European Commission.

But UK organic bodies will not be able to apply for recognition until after Brexit – and approval could take up to nine months to secure.

The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) said the situation for organic produce served as a warning on future trade in all food and agricultural products between the UK and the EU.

NFU deputy president Guy Smith, who farms in Essex, said: “Our stance is that we must have an orderly, organised Brexit. We do not want a no-deal cliff-edge scenario.

“Organic goods need really tight certification for obvious reasons to get into organic markets. That is not in place in March, so what does an organic producer do in that situation? It is up to the government to make sure the certification is in place.

“There are lots of other practical issues.

“Anyone growing wheat in East Anglia near an east coast port will probably be selling some of it to Ireland. If we just fall out of Europe it will attract a 13 euro-per-tonne tariff, and it will need certain paperwork and certificates to show it is grown to EU standards.

“Another example is I have a New Holland tractor and I am proud that it is made in Basildon, but I am conscious it has a French cab and an Italian gearbox, so if we don’t have a smooth relationship with the EU going forward and I cannot get spare parts for my tractor, I could come to a grinding halt.

“None of this is unresolvable, but there is a lot of minutiae here that could interrupt important trade.

“I don’t want to be scare-mongering about this. I am sure it is all manageable but there are so many small issues that need to be thought through.

“But farmers already have to deal with the cycle of the seasons and they cannot just stop and wait for politicians.”

The government said it was exploring “alternative approaches” to speed up the process for organic produce. Ministers expect to negotiate an arrangement which would allow free movement of organic produce between the UK and EU, because European regulations will remain in UK law.

Logos on packaging would also need to change, with the EU organic label in the shape of a green leaf of stars stripped off, though UK labels would remain.

Elsewhere in the farming sector, the government moved to reassure landowners they would continue to get farming subsidies, currently controlled by the EU, in the case of no-deal, until new agriculture legislation is brought in.

The funding will remain at existing levels until the end of this parliament, expected in 2022, for the whole of the UK, a technical notice on payments reiterates.

People receiving subsidies will have to conform to the same standards and rules, including on-site farm inspections, in order to receive the payments.

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