British farmers exporting cattle to the continent are trying to set up facilities for “bureaucratic” checks by vets in France, which cost millions of pounds – and may even pay for them themselves.
UK breeders are unable to export their purebred cattle, sheep and pigs to the EU because no one has built any border control posts where veterinarians can check animals before they enter the single market.
No private company in France has so far been prepared to invest the millions of euros needed to build a facility, which has halted UK exports to the European continent since Brexit.
Now the National Farmers Union (NFU) plans to ask farmers if they will help fund the facility themselves. Meanwhile, some breeders say they only have a few months left before closing their export operations, while others are relocating to the EU.
John Royle, chief livestock adviser at the NFU, has tried to rescue British farmers who specialize in raising prize-winning cattle, sheep and pigs which are then used to establish their own herds and herds.
“These are high value, highly sought after, healthy animals,” he said. “They travel in better conditions than you or I would on a ferry or in the tunnel. Considering what Brexit has cost countries on both sides of the border, with a modest investment we could revive trade to the benefit of UK and EU cattle farmers.
The issues of being a third country have become clearer for travelers to Dover, with six-hour delays last month caused by UK passport checks and a lack of border crossings. But UK and EU ports have at least taken some steps to prepare for Brexit bureaucracy affecting tourists. This is not the case for cattle.
In 2019 Royle started writing to the ports of Holland Hook and Zeebrugge in Calais and Dieppe, asking them to set up a facility, but none of them were interested. Eventually he found a small French family business called Qualivia that was willing to apply to build a facility in Calais just outside the port.
Qualivia, which Royle described as “very good breeders”, has received authorization from the French authorities and expects to receive approval from the European Commission soon.
But the company has asked for assurances it will recoup the cost of building a border checkpoint, amid fears over the future of UK livestock exports.
“In fact, what we’re doing now is helping Qualivia find the funds to build this infrastructure,” Royle said. “And that may require investment from UK businesses. Which is a ridiculous thing, isn’t it? Due to Brexit, we have to finance our own facilities in France to transport our animals to European customers. »
He added that although officials from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) tried to be helpful, “there has been no help from the government. No way.”
British breeders sent around 500 shipments a year, ranging from a single Aberdeen Angus breeding bull or pair of ewes to 30 breeding pigs.
Royle helps pig farmer who moved to England because of his high animal health standards: ‘It’s a big pig farming business where they raise basic animals, at the top of the pyramid farming, and they may have to move to Europe, effectively closing their business in the UK, which is not what they want to do.
Another victim of the lack of red tape is Geoff Roper, who imported Australian Lowline cattle to his Dorset farm, Wessex Lowlines, 12 years ago, seeing the potential for a breed that was smaller than other cattle and which usually only needs to be grass fed. , rather than a cereal food, which makes it more sustainable.
“We have established several herds in Europe – in the Pyrenees, in Bordeaux and Belgium, and in Switzerland and Germany,” Roper said. “And we have been doing this for several years – we are known as the center of excellence for these products in Europe.”
He has five European clients who have made installments for Lowlines and some have been waiting for two years. Roper estimates he has lost £150,000 so far.
“It just stopped our cash flow. I have half a million pounds of stock, half of which should go to Europe – 50 of them are ready now – but we can’t move them. I plan to continue funding this venture until May next year. If we don’t know by May, we have significant issues.
Roper Farm Manager Sam Maughan said: “It was totally unexpected – we trusted the powers that be to have a short term shutdown and get everything back up and running. It just seems right. “There’s going to be a lot of buck-passing. Surely the UK government has a responsibility to UK businesses that support this country.”
A Defra spokesperson said: “It is the responsibility of EU countries and authorities to approve the designation and operation of these facilities. However, we support industry efforts to lobby for BCP [border control post] construction and continue to dialogue with the French authorities on this issue.