The UK could lose access to EU alerts on animal and plant disease threats, which could in turn compromise farmers' biosecurity, a report has concluded.
Leaving the European Union could "significantly compromise" the UK’s ability to manage such threats, the House of Lords European Union committee said in their new report.
The issue is a constant threat to the industry, with 300 different pests and diseases intercepted at the UK border last year.
Currently, most decisions on how to react to biosecurity threats are made at an EU level, due to an EU-wide intelligence notification system which traces plant and animal movement.
But when the UK leaves the EU, it will no longer automatically be part of this framework.
Given the geographical proximity, and the volume of trade and travel between the UK and the EU, continued cooperation is "critical", according to the Committee.
Disease and pest threat
Chairman of the Committee, Lord Teverson listed prominent examples of disease threats and the importance of biosecurity in tackling them.
“The 2001 foot and mouth disease outbreak in the UK led to more than six million animals being slaughtered and is estimated to have cost over £8 billion,” he said.
“The outbreak of Dutch elm disease that began in the 1960s destroyed millions of elm trees in the UK, and now there are fears over ash dieback and African swine fever.
“These examples highlight just how important biosecurity is, and the devastating impact that animal and plant diseases can have,” Lord Teverson added.
The UK current relies on the EU from auditing plant nurseries and farms, to funding research in laboratories.
Lord Teverson said that whilst existing arrangements are "far from perfect", there will be "significant gaps" when the UK leaves them.
He said the UK Government has a "huge amount" of work to do to replace this system in time for Brexit, and failure to do so could have an economic and environmental impact that would be "felt for decades to come".
The Committee's report urges the Government to seek continued participation in the EU’s notification and intelligence sharing networks.
They also express doubt that the Government would be able to have a replacement legislative framework, along with the monitoring, inspection and enforcement mechanisms, staff and IT systems to support it, by March 2019 when they would be needed in the case of a ‘no deal’ Brexit.
The Committee recognised that leaving the EU offers the opportunity for the UK to implement far stricter biosecurity measures than are currently in place.
But doing so would create barriers to the free-flow of goods in and out of the country, as additional checks are imposed.