MINISTERS have warned that UK government red tape could lead to a block to meat exports that will have a "devastating" effect on the Scots industry and raise prices.

Scots farmers and meat producers are among those objecting to regulatory changes due to come in from December 13 that will mean that a "significant" amount of meat production will become "non-compliant" for export to the EU overnight.

With 72% of all meat exports going to the EU, the UK government has been warned that it will have a "devastating effect on farmers, auction markets and meat processors".

The National Farmers Union Scotland (NFUS) and Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers (SAMW) have both put their names to concerns sent to the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) that the new rules will be "another shot in the foot for the economy, with big unintended consequences for farmers, processors and consumers alike."

The SAMW has brought their concerns to the Scots rural affairs secretary Mairi Gougeon and asked her to intervene to ensure a "practical and pragmatic solution can be identified before the proposed implementation".

Martin Morgan, executive manager of the SAMW said: "This is an important issue for this association. My members stand to lose millions of pounds of export business unless Defra relent. It will also inevitably lead to a decline in the value of livestock and prices received by farmers."

Scottish exports of red meat and offal sold outside the UK rebounded to £80.5m in the year from August 2021 to July 2022 according to a new report from Quality Meat Scotland (QMS).

Results from the QMS annual export survey reveal the value of export sales was nearly 7% higher than when the survey was last carried out for the 2019/20 period, and recovered to within 2% of the pre-Covid peak in 2018/19.

The main export destinations for Scotch Beef in 2021-22 were Italy, France and The Netherlands, collectively accounting for nearly two-thirds of the total, with Belgium, Germany and Hong Kong also proving to be important markets.

HeraldScotland: Scotch Beef

The new issue surrounds pre-export requirements which are set to change from a farmer declaration to a veterinary attestation with immediate effect on December 13, under a new Defra animal health documentation policy.

The industry says a change of that depth would normally take up to a year to implement.

UK ministers have been warned that the rapid move could lead to a loss of EU export markets.

A British Meat Processors Association source said: "The new bureacracy is a UK-only requirement - the EU has not demanded it "If Defra plough ahead with it, many farmers will be devastated and food prices will rise "It woud take over a year to be able to implement the new rule and we have seven weeks.

"And so far, our warnings have gone unacknowledged and unheeded.

"The clock is ticking and we intend to do everything we can to avert the impending damage to the UK's meat export market."

Since the EU introduced a requirement for farms to have regular animal health visits by a vet to become export compliant, farmers have been able to comply with EU Animal Health Regulations (AHR) by providing a simple farmer declaration that vet visits have been done.

But in May this year, Defra took the "unilateral" decision to add a UK-only requirement that all farms not covered by a UK farm assurance scheme will need to use a vet to sign the new animal health documents.

Failure to do so will stop them obtaining an export health certificate.

A letter supported by Scots producers and sent to DEFRA said that not only is this not required by the EU but, given the current shortage of vets and the sheer number of farms that would need to be visited afresh, they estimate it would take many months to implement.

The letter says: "We believe the UK meat industry is now faced with an instant loss of a significant portion of its EU export market overnight for no other reason than DEFRA’s decision to add an extra layer of bureaucracy, but with no time to implement it.

"Far from reducing red tape as this Government aims to do, this plan will add even more and cost British producers dear."

The BMPA suggested that the rapid increase in paperwork caused by the new rules could lead to some of the larger abattoirs turning away animals from non-assured farms.

There are currently around 72,500 sheep holdings and 54,500 cattle holdings in Great Britain, of which there are 27,566 beef and 20,361 lamb Red Tractor assured holdings.

A DEFRA spokesman said: “Businesses exporting goods from GB to the EU are required by the EU to use Export Health Certificates (EHCs) signed by an official vet. This requirement is set by the EU and is not within the control of the UK government.

“However we are aware of the concerns raised by industry about the process of providing evidence of regular vet visits. We are engaging with businesses and the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons to try and ease the burden on exporters in meeting these EU requirements.”