EU exit to impact Devon beef farmers, warns Truss

An exit from the European Union could threaten Devon’s beef industry, according to Environment Secretary Elizabeth Truss. 

This news comes after Truss issued a Brexit warning to the UK’s sheep industry.

According to the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra), 93% of all beef exports went to the EU last year. If the UK were to leave the Union, beef farmers could lose millions of pounds of business by losing access to the market.

In 2015, 92,000 tonnes (t) of beef worth £320 million headed to the EU. The county of Devon, Defra said, played a central role in this, with the region’s farmers contributing over 35% of beef farms in the south west.

“Devon is home to more than a third of all the beef farms in the south west, and its farmers benefit from having the world’s largest single market of half a billion customers on their doorstep, buying 93% of our beef exports,” explained Truss.

“The European market is vital, not just for Devon’s farmers, who are rearing top-quality beef cattle, but for the county’s huge food manufacturing sector, which creates even more local jobs. Leaving the EU is a leap in the dark which would put these jobs at risk and threaten the livelihoods of the region’s 60,000-plus agricultural workers.”

A total of 75% of all food and drink exports from the south, worth £420m, headed to EU countries last year. Should the UK decide to leave the EU, Defra warned that farmers could face crippling tariffs to sell their goods to the rest of Europe, with different regulations surrounding inspections and labelling damaging business even further.

“Farmers in Devon and across the UK, are safer, stronger and better off as part of a reformed EU,” continued Truss.

“EU member Ireland is the biggest consumer of British beef, with exports there worth £110m in 2015, followed by the Netherlands and France. By comparison, last year our beef exports to non-EU countries were worth a mere £23m. Our farmers don’t have to face the high tariffs that some other countries do to trade with the EU – up to 70% for beef products – which could cost around £240m per year and decrease our competitiveness.”

Truss highlighted that Devon beef farmers benefited from EU Protected Food Name status for their West Country Beef – similar to other products across the EU such as Feta cheese and Parma ham. “This recognition protects West Country Beef from imitation, helps consumers recognise the product as traditional and authentic, and acts as a valuable mark of quality in the competitive international marketplace.

“Producers who register their beef for protection benefit from raised awareness of their product throughout Europe, helping them take advantage of consumers’ increasing awareness of the importance of regional and speciality foods and giving a boost in sales to help grow the local economy.

“Rearing cattle for beef was the second-greatest contributor, after dairy, to the farming sector’s output in the south west in 2014, accounting for £351m.”

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