No-deal Brexit a serious danger to UK's biosecurity, warns report

Lord Teverson. You knew that

Britain's ability to deal with threats from animal and plant diseases could be "seriously compromised" by a no-deal Brexit, a Lords committee has said.

Peers expressed concern at the prospect of the UK losing access to "vital" EU safety alerts after it leaves the bloc.

Animal and plant diseases, along with invasive non-native species, present a "constant threat" to the UK's biosecurity, according to the House of Lords EU Energy and Environment Committee's report.

Some 300 different pests and diseases were intercepted at the UK border last year, the study said.

The committee expressed concern about Britain's readiness to deal with the situation if it quits the EU without a deal in March 2019.

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The report said if such a scenario happened there were doubts the government "would be able to have a replacement legislative framework, along with the monitoring, inspection and enforcement mechanisms, staff and IT systems to support it" in place by that date.

The committee added: "This risks leaving the UK's biosecurity seriously compromised."

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Peers urged the government to push for continued participation in the EU's notification and intelligence sharing networks.

At present, most decisions on how to respond to biosecurity threats are made by Brussels, with the UK benefiting from EU-wide information gathering and disease notification systems that trace plant and animal movements, the report said.

Peers claimed Brexit could lead to a shortfall in UK biosecurity areas such as information sharing, available capacity in the veterinary sector, inspections and audits, access to research funding and enforcement of biosecurity regulations.

The committee also expressed concern about the capacity of government departments and agencies to handle the situation.

Committee chairman Lord Teverson said: "The 2001 foot and mouth disease outbreak in the UK led to more than six million animals being slaughtered and is estimated to have cost over £8bn.

"The outbreak of Dutch elm disease that began in the 1960s destroyed millions of elm trees in the UK and now there are fears over ash dieback and African swine fever.

"These examples highlight just how important biosecurity is and the devastating impact that animal and plant diseases can have."

He added: "The existing arrangements are far from perfect but significant gaps will be created when the UK leaves them.

"We rely on the EU for everything from auditing plant nurseries and farms to funding our research laboratories.

"The UK government has a huge amount of work to do to replace this system in time for Brexit and failure to do so could have an economic and environmental impact that would be felt for decades to come."

The report also said leaving the EU offered the opportunity for the UK to implement far stricter biosecurity measures than were currently in place.

But it added doing so "would create barriers to the free flow of goods in and out of the country, as additional checks are imposed".

A Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs spokeswoman said: "The government's ability to protect the country from pests and diseases will not be compromised once we leave the EU, nor will we stop sharing information with European or other global partners. To do so would be in nobody's interests.

"All countries that are members of the World Organisation for Animal Health are required to report any listed animal disease within 24 hours of a disease being confirmed. We will also remain part of plant information-sharing networks, such as European and Mediterranean Plant Protection Organisation.

"Within Defra we have taken a number of steps to maintain our high biosecurity standards post March 2019. This includes working with industry to make sure the necessary numbers of vets are in place."

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