Making changes to the strict conditions that livestock must meet to move from Britain to NI after Brexit will be a “long process”, NI chief vet Robert Huey has warned.

Chief veterinary officers (CVOs) from across Europe met virtually last Thursday and discussed the export health certificates that will required for trade between Britain and the EU’s regulatory zone, which includes NI.

It comes after the UK government decided to replicate those EU requirements on livestock and animal-based products that move from the EU27 into Britain after 1 January 2021.

“CVOs are starting to see difficulties with signing some of these certificates and with the conditions. I hope that it will lead to a process that will resolve some of these issues,” Huey told reporters on Tuesday.

The strict requirements listed on certificates are at the crux of the issue, and the reason why around 7,000 Blackface ewe lambs in Scotland, purchased by NI farmers, are unable to move to NI in the new year.

Likewise, pedigree breeders are concerned that various conditions on export health certificates will severely restrict the movement of other breeding livestock from Britain to NI in the new year.

I suspect there is going to be no animals for breeding, cattle or sheep, coming into NI, because of the certificates

“At the moment, I suspect there is going to be no animals for breeding, cattle or sheep, coming into NI, because of the certificates,” Huey said.

The issue has been discussed by UK and EU officials on the committee set up to work out how the NI protocol part of the Brexit withdrawal agreement will work in practice.

These discussions proved unsuccessful, but Huey seems more confident that a solution could be found through talks involving his CVO counterparts from across the EU and UK.

“This is normal between trading blocks. Discussions on export health certificates go on all the time,” he maintained.

However, he made clear that an unsuccessful outcome in the ongoing EU-UK trade negotiations could make it difficult to amend the export health certificates in the new-year.

“A lot of it depends on how relationships are after that,” Huey said.

Potato market hit by certificate requirements

New plant health rules are set to stop ware and seed potatoes moving from Britain into NI from 1 January 2021.

With Britain outside the EU, new rules will apply which aim to prevent potato diseases being brought into the EU’s regulatory zone, which includes NI.

Speaking to MLAs at Stormont, Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots explained that the rules will not apply to peeled potatoes.

“Potatoes with skins are treated differently because they have the potential of introducing plant disease to NI. Today, you can do it, and it’s not going to be a greater risk next month, but nonetheless that is the situation,” he said.

Potatoes with skins are treated differently because they have the potential of introducing plant disease to NI

“It’s not our desire to import potatoes from Holland with extra haulage and extra food miles but it is what’s going to end up happening if we cannot get this resolved,” Minister Poots added.

In a statement, Portadown-based potato processor Angus Wilson called on the EU to list Britain as a third country so that potatoes can move from Britain to NI under an existing EU export health certificate.

The chairman of Wilson’s Country maintained that imports from Britain were needed for the local chipping market.

“We need specific varieties with high dry matter for this market, which are very hard to produce locally. This simply reflects the much wetter growing conditions and limited sunshine that prevails in this part of the world,” he said.

Live exports surge under no deal

Cattle that are born and reared in the Republic of Ireland (ROI), but are slaughtered and processed in NI, will have tariff-free access to the British market if the UK and EU do not reach a trade agreement.

During a briefing with MLAs, Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots said that the arrangement would “probably put pressure” on NI meat plants.

“ROI beef that is slaughtered in ROI, should there be no trade deal, will be subject to tariffs,” he confirmed.