A no-deal Brexit would ruin livelihoods – and wipe out British organic farming businesses, industry leaders have warned.
Without a deal, organic food exports to the EU will only be allowed once certified by a “UK control body” recognised and approved by Brussels, according the British government.
But UK bodies overseeing the organic sector are not allowed to apply for EU recognition and approval until after the UK leaves the trade bloc on 29 March 2019.
“Approval can take up to nine months so we are exploring alternative approaches that should speed up this process,” says a no-deal Brexit document from Defra.
Organic farming is just one sector covered by 25 no-deal Brexit advice papers published by the government on Thursday (23 August).
The government already guaranteed farm support until the end of the current parliament, even if the UK leaves the EU without a deal – although the form it will take is expected to change.
Estimates suggest about 10% of the UK’s organic output, worth some £2.2bn in 2017, is exported – predominantly to EU countries.
NFU president Minette Batters said a cliff-edge scenario would be disastrous for farm businesses, the economy and society if applied across the wider UK food supply chain.
“While these notices are an essential part of government’s plans for preparing for all outcomes, they serve as a sobering reminder of what is at stake for farmers in the event of a no deal.
Ms Batters added: “The technical notice for organic farming is a warning for us on the future of trade of all agri-food products.”
“If all these products were subjected to the same problems in approvals and certification then this could result in effectively a trade embargo on exports to the EU.
“Not only would this be hugely disruptive but it threatens livelihoods and businesses in the UK.”
‘Worst possible scenario’
The Soil Association (SA), which is the UK’s biggest organic certification body, said a no-deal Brexit was the “worst possible” scenario.
SA head of standards Chris Atkinson said: “Frictionless trade with the EU is critically important for the food and farming sector.
“It’s vitally important the UK remains in the customs union and stays aligned with EU standards on food and environment as a minimum.
“A no-deal Brexit is the worst possible scenario.”
Mr Atkinson said the government documents offered no further clarity and provided “neither reassurance nor advice” on how to prepare for a potential no-deal scenario.
He added: “They confirm the scale of the challenge we face and the vital importance the UK achieves a workable deal with the EU.”
Brexit secretary Dominic Raab said he was confident the government would secure a good deal – but it was important the government planned for every eventuality.
In a speech to launch the advice papers, he said: “I am still confident that getting a good deal is – by far – the most likely outcome.”
Defra said it was expecting to negotiate an equivalency arrangement with the EU which would allow the free movement of organic goods between the EU and the UK.
It said it would ask Brussels to discuss these applications in advance of 29 March 2019.