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Soil Association opens Brexit readiness helpline for organic farmers

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The Soil Association has launched a Brexit readiness support service to help organic businesses prepare for a no-deal Brexit on 31 October.

The service consists of a Brexit support phone line, email address and online chat system.

The dedicated team will help answer questions and provide up to date information to the sector. A new Brexit support web page has also been launched, including key information and requirements needed in order for the organic sector to prepare for Brexit.

The website will be kept up to date and live throughout October. The Soil Association will also run a number of webinars with experts from the Soil Association.

The readiness service is open to all organic businesses in the UK, not just those certified by Soil Association Certification, and will provide information to help businesses prepare in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

The creation of the Brexit support service comes at a critical time for the UK’s organic sector, with the Soil Association today warning that a no-deal exit brings “maximum uncertainty” for organic food and farming.

Currently, in the event of no-deal, UK organic producers will not be able to export to the EU unless certified by an EU-approved organic control body.

Soil Association Certification and other UK certification bodies are unable to officially apply for this status until the UK has left the EU, any break in recognition would mean organic exports from the UK to the EU would effectively be blocked.

Liz Bowles, Associate Director of Farming, Soil Association, said: “A no-deal Brexit brings maximum uncertainty for organic food and farming, raising critical issues on the ability to trade and export. In the event of a no-deal Brexit, recognition of UK organic certification by the EU is anticipated to cease overnight with a prospect of a prolonged period when organic exports to the EU could become impossible.

“An ongoing lack of clarity and progress from government, despite the work of many organisations in the sector, means we are still no clearer how long this break in the ability of organic businesses to export will be. Any break – whether it is 6 days or 6 months – could be devastating for many organic businesses.”

Funding for the hotline comes from the government’s “Brexit readiness fund”, set up to help sectors most at risk from a no-deal Brexit. The Soil Association, whose certification arm certifies around 70% of the UK’s organic food and drink, applied for the funds in order to provide the organic sector a central point to access information as it prepares for Brexit.

Businesses wishing to contact the support service should email Brexitsupport@soilassociation.org or call 03334141451. Updated information on organic and Brexit is available at www.soilassociation.org/brexitforbusiness.

Earlier this week, President of the NFU, Minette Batters, warned of the impacts of a no-deal Brexit on the UK’s agricultural sector.

Echoing the NFU’s warnings, Liz Bowles continued:The threat of a no-deal exit isn’t limited to export or to the organic sector in isolation. The whole of UK agriculture is at risk from a chaotic exit, as the NFU also pointed out this week, with organic no exception to this. The current proposed tariff regime risks low-cost, low-standard and low-welfare food flooding the market, while UK exports to the EU face crippling tariffs. UK farmers face the untenable position of competing with foods produced more cheaply at standards well below the high standards they maintain, particularly around animal welfare. Farmers could be forced to lower their own standards or go out of business.

“Consumers will ultimately end up paying the price – with the stark choice of poor-quality food produced unsustainably overseas, rather than the high-quality, locally-produced food they currently enjoy.

“A no-deal exit threatens the long-term sustainability of British agriculture, alongside our efforts to reduce emissions and fight climate change – both on UK soil and overseas. This flies in the face of government promises to be an ‘environmental superpower’ after Brexit. Our farmers are producing many forms of public good – from high-quality food to environmental protections – and the question for government is whether sacrificing all this on the altar of a no-deal Brexit and the pursuit of trade deals at any cost is a price they are willing to pay.”

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