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Brexit worse than foot-and-mouth disease

Cattle numbers continued their long-term decline.
Cattle numbers continued their long-term decline.

A no-deal Brexit could result in market shutdowns similar to those experienced in the 2001 foot-and-mouth disease outbreak.

That was the warning from National Sheep Association (NSA) Scotland development officer, George Milne, at the organisation’s annual general meeting.

Mr Milne – a farmer from Fife who has worked for the association for 20 years – said many farmers and crofters were failing to understand the severity of what a no-deal Brexit could mean for the sector.

He fears failure to gain access to European markets, which are particularly vital for the lamb sector, could result in a similar level of market disruption as experience in 2001.

“I don’t think all sheep farmers are aware of the consequences of what a no-deal will put us into,” said Mr Milne.

“Those farming in 2001 when foot-and-mouth broke out will remember that our export markets closed, we couldn’t move sheep and we ended up with a welfare scheme.

“Under a no-deal Brexit that is probably what will be the outcome and the stark warning is that this could last a damn long time.”

He said lamb export markets, export certification and export labels needed to be “sorted out” to ensure a continuation of lamb trade with Europe after Brexit.

“The industry is not prepared,” added Mr Milne.

“The consequences here could change the sheep industry going forward and the way it’s been run and seen in the past forever.”

Retiring NSA Scotland chairman and Aberdeenshire farmer, John Fyall, said uncertainty caused by Brexit was already knocking farmer confidence.

He accused the Scottish Government of failing to properly consult industry on important issues, such as the recent proposed cuts to Less Favoured Area Support Scheme (LFASS) payments and said too much time was being spent carrying out consultations and forming advisory groups.

Mr Fyall added: “We have retired experts and people with soft hands reporting to represent our industry.

“I think we should call time on yet another consultation process and demand we go straight to work on our next agriculture bill.

“We need to have a clear policy for food and drink that relates directly to what is going on on the ground.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Even though Scotland voted overwhelmingly against Brexit, as a responsible government, we have been taking the necessary steps to plan for it.

“We will continue to call on the UK Government to immediately rule out the possibility of a ‘no deal’ Brexit and extend the Article 50 process.

“That includes preparing contingency plans for sheep, beef and other agricultural sectors which could feel the impact more than most.

“The Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing wrote to Michael Gove this week to call for the UK Government to pay those farmers affected, for the disastrous consequences of a political action they did not vote for.”

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