Boris Johnson has complained about the burden of EU regulations that protect consumers from sheep disease similar to BSE entering the human food chain.
The former mayor of London told farmers he questioned the need for rules that mean spinal tissue has to be removed from sheep with more than two big teeth, as he promised Brexit would bring about deregulation of the farming industry.
Speaking at a cattle market in Clitheroe, Lancashire, he said farmers would get the same amount of money from subsidies after leaving the EU while being relieved of red tape.
“We want to lift the burden from UK farming. I’ve just been talking to people about the rule that says if your sheep has two teeth or more than two big teeth you’ve got to slaughter it in a certain way to remove the spinal tissue. What is the point of that? It’s way out of date. You don’t need it. But because it comes from Brussels, we cannot change it and we cannot reform it.”
The rules were brought to protect consumers from sheep scrapie because of fears that it could have a similar impact as BSE, commonly known as mad cow disease, which led to a huge scandal in the farming industry in the 1990s over its link to Creutzfeld-Jakob disesase (CJD) in humans.
The UK goes further than the EU in requiring farmers to remove all spinal material from slaughtered sheep of more than 12 months old or those whose incisors have come through.
The Sheep Industry Association has argued for an easing of the rules or a complete end to carcass-splitting to remove the spines of sheep, saying it increases costs by slowing down the slaughter process, necessitates the checking of teeth and devalues the meat.
However, the EU and UK have maintained the rules as a precautionary measure with the aim of protecting the public from potentially infected meat.
Johnson’s comments are likely to add to worries among remain campaigners that leading advocates of Brexit are keen for deregulation of environmental and consumer standards after leaving the EU.
Last week, George Eustice, a farming minister and leave campaigner, said Britain could develop a more flexible approach to environmental protection free of “spirit-crushing” Brussels directives if it voted to leave.
Both sides in the debate have been trying to appeal to the farming industry and rural communities during the referendum campaign.
On Thursday, Johnson promised farmers their subsidies would be preserved if Britain leaves the EU – his third policy pledge this week despite not being a member of the government. He has already vowed to bring in an Australian-style immigration system and to scrap VAT on energy bills.
On Wednesday, he denied he was effectively forming an alternative government in the hope of replacing David Cameron after the referendum. The policies were merely options for any government after 23 June, he said.
At the cattle market on Thursday, Johnson said any government would be “out of its mind” to cancel the agricultural subsidies that keep many farmers in business.
Danny Wood, who has a 300-acre cattle and sheep farm at Bolton-by-Bowland, Lancashire, said he was not convinced by Johnson. “We all think it’s a smokescreen,” he said. “He can promise to me to pay us the same amount of money. He has no authority, no power – he’s just a person that’s walked in here and said what he’s got to say. You could say it, I could say it – I could promise anybody the world.”
Before the speech, Johnson played auction master to sell off a cow for £960.
This article was written by Rowena Mason Political correspondent, for theguardian.com on Thursday 2nd June 2016 15.32 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010