Defra Secretary George Eustice has denied industry claims that delaying checks on EU imports puts UK producers at a competitive disadvantage.
Earlier this month, farm groups and vets reacted angrily to a UK Government decision to postpone a range of requirements for EU food imports, such as health certificates and in-person inspections.
Exports from Great Britain to the EU have faced equivalent checks since the end of the Brexit transition period on January 1, 2021, causing delays and leaving some food consignments rotting at ports.
Farmers Union of Wales (FUW) president Glyn Roberts said at the time that the decision had created an ‘uneven playing field which greatly favours EU businesses’, while the National Pig Association warned importing EU products without checks at lower cost would hit pig prices in Great Britain.
But Mr Eustice told MPs on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee last week that pig farmers were suffering because of severe disruption in the Chinese pig market due to African Swine Fever.
“We took a conscious decision, because we thought it made sense that as you depart from the single market and the customs union, you should gradually allow people to acclimatise themselves to the changes,” he said.
“We did so to be reasonable and pragmatic, recognising that there was not really a risk in food safety in doing so. The European Union, for reasons that are best known to the European Union, chose not to be reasonable and pragmatic in a reciprocal way.”
While acknowledging it would be ‘galling’ for British producers to see imports coming into Great Britain from the EU without checks, the Minister went on to say the difference would be ‘short-term’, because health certificates and physical checks would be brought in over the course of the next year.