Opinion

What will happen to plant health and plant protection product regulations after Brexit?

08 March 2017

Sarah Baker

In this article we will examine what the regulatory framework for plant protection products (PPPs) in UK agriculture and the wider supply chain might look like post Brexit. 

The current regulatory framework is determined by the EU Commission with subsequent approval for use in Member States being decided locally. The UK has a huge legislative task ahead replacing existing EU laws with equivalent UK ones in many areas. The regulation of pesticides is unlikely to be top of the agenda when it comes to considering changing regulation at the point of transition and it is, therefore, likely that the existing EU rules will be ‘lifted and shifted’ in the medium term, as part of ‘The Great Repeal Bill’, pending more fundamental reform in the medium to long term.

The process of giving effect in UK law to EU regulations is likely to be complex, especially where those regulations confer responsibilities on particular EU bodies, which will no longer have jurisdiction once the UK exits.

The Department for Exiting the EU (DExEU) asked departments to identify EU legislation relating to each department as either ‘operable’ (that is, could be lifted into UK law without significant amendment) or ‘inoperable’ (in need of reform before it could be used in the post-Brexit UK).

The operable laws will work with a direct ‘lift and shift’, but the inoperable laws may require significant policy decisions to be made.

Current PPP regulations are dependent on EU bodies including the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the Commission for approval. Therefore, under the definition above, current regulations may be considered ‘inoperable’ and not eligible for a straight ‘lift and shift’, unless the UK government chooses to align with the EU on current and future regulation. 

The potential for regulatory reform may be seen by some as a way of a reducing both unnecessary costs and the number or complexity of regulations. It may also be seen as an opportunity to look for the most effective and efficient ways of achieving regulatory outcomes and to examine whether other policy instruments such as voluntary approaches could provide a better incentive for improved practices. 

It also raises the issue of the regulatory process itself, as this could be an area of operations that the UK may have to take on should a decision be made to make this process independent of other countries.

So the two main issues are first, the use of plant protection products within the regulations i.e. using products so as to operate within the law and secondly, the regulations and process surrounding the registration of the products themselves for use in the UK.

Brexit offers an opportunity to join up the process of the setting of standards and the registration process, which is currently shared between the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the Commission, to something similar used in the USA where the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has responsibility for the setting of standards, assessing compliance and final approval. 

Brexit is also seen by many as an opportunity to regain control of regulatory affairs, providing greater flexibility to set UK standards. However, regulatory standards play an important role in facilitating cross-border supply chains (e.g. livestock growth promoters, maximum residue levels for chemicals, genetically modified organisms, etc.) and, therefore, if the UK wishes to continue trading with the EU or with other countries requiring EU compliance, this flexibility may be limited. Although under WTO rules countries may set their own regulatory standards, based on science.

If an exporting country can demonstrate that the measures it applies to its exports achieve the same level of health protection as in the importing country, then the importing country is expected to accept the exporting country’s standards and methods. However, countries can also set higher standards based on appropriate assessment of risks so long as the approach is consistent, not arbitrary. Thus, a divergence from EU standards could result in UK exports to countries based on EU compliance being challenged. Given the importance of UK/EU trade this is something that the UK is likely to want to avoid.

However, the industry should be preparing for change in the regulatory framework in the medium term. While changes in the regulation of PPPs may not be a top priority for Government within the wider context of Brexit, they will come under scrutiny once the UK leaves the EU.

Since a policy needs to be in place at the point of exit, it would appear likely that the vast majority of PPP regulations will be ‘lifted and shifted’’ as part of ‘The Great Repeal Bill’. However, following this, change is possible and the industry needs to think ahead regarding what it wants and needs to compete effectively in a changing global trading environment, as well as satisfying consumer preferences in a domestic market.

A number of policy options are possible, including aligning with the EU on plant protection, or developing an independent UK policy. The final outcome will depend on a number of factors including, probably most importantly, the UK’s trading relationship with the EU post Brexit and the issue of ‘equivalence’ of PPPs, UK agricultural policy and the UK’s obligations under international agreements. At present it is not clear which approach the UK government will adopt as each have associated pros and cons. This is something that AHDB will be monitoring closely and we will be keeping our levy payers informed of future developments.

Continuing to protect human and environmental health is of fundamental importance but without a supply of safe and nutritious food, human health will also be impacted. 

It may transpire that the regulatory burden might not be reduced as much as farmers might hope and in any event would probably take a number of years to achieve. It is also likely that environmental, conservation, consumer and public health lobbies will continue to be influential and to exert pressure for more stringent regulation of agriculture and plant protection products in particular. 

Achieving the right balance between regulation and productivity in all areas is an age-old challenge and that is no less true of the position the country finds itself in now.

Exiting the EU will not change all the laws that affect rural businesses. In many areas the UK is bound by commitments as a signatory to international agreements such as the Bern Convention and Kyoto and Paris Climate Change Agreements.

It is also important to remember that UK businesses will remain bound by current EU regulation for up to two years after Article 50 is triggered or at such a time that the UK formally leaves the EU.

For more information please see our Horizon publication on ‘What will happen to Plant Health and Plant Protection regulations after Brexit’ http://www.ahdb.org.uk/documents/Horizon_Brexit_Analysis_january2017.pdf

 

 

 

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