A SCOTTISH farmers union has criticised the UK Government for kicking “the can down the road” on implementing an improved system of border controls for meat and other products entering the country.

The chair of the pig committee for the National Farmers Union of Scotland, Jamie Wyllie, said that the current system of controls that have been in place since the UK officially left the European Union in 2020 are “wholly inadequate” and put livestock at risk of catching diseases such as African Swine Fever (ASF).

The latest legislative timetable released by the UK Government shows that a new system is not set to be in place until January 2024.

Writing on the NFU’s website Wyllie said it was “vital” that an improved system of border checks comes into place and is not subject to further delays.

“Amongst all the chaos of securing a ‘Brexit deal’ the mechanics of how border controls would operate was somehow lost with no thought given to having the infrastructure and staff in place to manage controls when the split finally happened,” he said.

“A system has been promised but the deadline for when the system would be available has been repeatedly pushed back by the UK Government.

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“Announcements in July 2022 revealed a system would not be in place for January 2023, as required in legislation, instead the legislation was re-written to make room for this latest delay.

“The longer there is no system in place, the greater the distortion of the market for UK producers – with importers facing less bureaucracy that those looking to export meat from the UK to EU - and the longer our borders are left unprotected against the introduction of livestock diseases, such as African Swine Fever, into the UK herds and flocks.”

ASF is not dangerous to humans but is fatal to pigs. Last year numerous cases of the disease were found among pig herds in Germany, leading to growing concern among farmers in other EU countries.

Researchers estimated that in 2018 more than 43 million pigs in China died due to ASF infection, being culled to stamp out the virus or as a consequence of other impacts of the outbreaks.

No cases have yet been identified in the UK but farmers say it remains a real threat, particularly if border controls remain as they are now.

He added that farmers were already suffering due to the added costs they are faced with when exporting meat to the EU, which are not faced by those exporting meat into the UK.

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He said: “The reality is that we are not part of the EU any more therefore have no control over disease mitigation measures that the EU does.

"The EU does have a very sophisticated system for disease monitoring, checking and sharing which helps EU countries to mitigate risk, but we no longer have access to this system. The EU makes us do these verification and health checks so they obviously think it’s important for their member countries health.

“The UK Government seem to be more focussed on meat for personal consumption, which is valuable, but the quantity of meat that comes in this way is far less than the commercially imported meat.”

SNP MSP Jim Fairlie told The National that Brexit has plunged Scotland’s farmers into a crisis they did not deserve.

"Despite Scotland voting overwhelmingly to remain in the EU, Scottish farming is facing a crisis caused by trade barriers, lost exports, spiralling prices, staff shortages and an uncertain future as a result of this extreme Brexit.

“And now we know the health of livestock is at risk because of a Tory obsession with a Brexit that has not and will not work. Scottish farmers deserve far better than the disregard they continue to be shown by Westminster.

"While our agricultural sector is one of the hardest hit there is almost no section of Scottish society - from our NHS to the hospitality industry - that is not being hammered by this catastrophe, which is backed by both the Tories and Labour.

"Fundamentally, we know it is in the best interests of farmers and the rest of Scotland to re-join the EU and be part of the largest Single Market in the world. And the only route available to us to do that is by becoming a normal independent country."

Agricultural spokesperson for the Scottish Greens, Arianne Burgess MSP, added that “reversing course” on Brexit was the best option for farmers.

She said: "Brexit has been a disaster that has hurt almost every area of our economy. Prior to the referendum our farmers were made big promises, but so many of them have fallen apart.

"A lot of farmers are struggling to cope with the impact it has had, which has also seen increased red tape, costs and delays. Despite this, the UK government has pushed on regardless and has delivered a reckless Brexit that is failing people and planet.

"With every day it is becoming clearer that we need to reverse course. The best way we can undo the damage is to rejoin the European Union as an independent member state."