UK is ‘unprepared for Food Brexit and risks chaos’

Food policy risks descending into chaos after Brexit, researchers warn

UK food policy risks descending into chaos because the government has failed to prepare for Brexit, a report warns.

Brexit posed serious risks to consumers, businesses and workers in the food sector, according to the report – ‘A Food Brexit: time to get real’ – by professors Tim Lang at City University, London, Erik Millstone at the University of Sussex and Terry Marsden from Cardiff University.

Government’s lack of vision for UK food and farming after the UK leaves the EU, threatened to hike the price of both ingredients and finished foods, the report said. Food quality, supply and the environment will also suffer, the researchers warned.

Lang said: “At least the UK entered World War Two with emergency plans. No-one has warned the public that a Food Brexit carries real risks of disruption to sources, prices and quality. There is solid evidence about vulnerabilities ranging from diet-related ill-health to ecosystems stress.

‘Serious policy failure on an unprecedented scale’

“Food is the biggest slice of EU-related regulations and laws, yet so far the government has only sketchily flagged a new Agriculture Act and Fisheries Act in the Queen’s Speech. With the Brexit deadline in 20 months, this is a serious policy failure on an unprecedented scale. Anyone would think they want a drop into the World Trade Organisation abyss.”

‘Chaotic food system’

“Unless things change rapidly, and in line with our recommendations, the UK will not only have policy chaos, the food system itself will become increasingly chaotic.”

  • Terry Marsden, Cardiff University

Imported products could become 22% more expensive for consumers, if the UK adopts a hard Brexit, the researchers warned.

The report highlighted 15 key issues that threatened the UK’s food resilience and security, post-Brexit. Issues included: labour, neighbour relations, and new legislation.

Food manufacturing was the UK’s largest manufacturing sector, and one third of its workforce were migrants, the report said. Technology wouldn’t replace the vast army of migrant labour that work in the sector, it added.

The UK imported most food vital for health – including a high proportion of fruit and vegetables – from the EU. Maintaining a good relationship with the remaining 27 Member States was crucial, the report said. Hostile and “stupid” talk from politicians slating the EU was “madness for a country that doesn’t feed itself”.

‘No vision’

There was no vision for replacing the Common Agricultural Policy and Common Fisheries Policy, the researchers said. Replacing the policies with new food legislation was vital in an era of climate change and ecosystem stresses, they added.

Marsden said: “Since the Brexit referendum, UK food and agricultural policy has been in chaos. Not only have ministers yet to develop a strategy or make decisions, they have not even grasped the issues about which urgent decisions are needed.

“Unless things change rapidly, and in line with our recommendations, the UK will not only have policy chaos, the food system itself will become increasingly chaotic.”

The researchers urged the public, civil society and academics to put pressure on government to create a new statutory framework for UK food, and to publish policy commitments to a low-impact, health-orientated UK food system.

Lang said: “UK food security and sustainability are now at stake.

“A food system which has an estimated three to five days of stocks cannot just walk away from the EU, which provides us with 31% of our food. Anyone who thinks this will be simple is ill-informed.”

15 Food Brexit issues that threatens food resilience and security
  • Lack of vision
  • New food legislation
  • Food security
  • Sourcing
  • Public support
  • Food quality and standards
  • Replacing the Common Agricultural Policy and Common Fisheries Policy
  • Food labour
  • Subsidies
  • National and regional food policy
  • Relationships with neighbours
  • Divided Food Britain
  • Institutions and infrastructure
  • The negotiations
  • The role of Big Food
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