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Report shows the UK is not ready for Brexit’s impact on food

British researchers say the UK is unprepared for the most complex ever change to its food system, which will be required before Brexit. The authors of the report claim the Government has no vision for UK food or agriculture.

A report by leading food policy specialists Professor Erik Millstone (University of Sussex), Professor Tim Lang (City, University of London) and Professor Terry Marsden (Cardiff University), concludes that leaving the European Union poses serious risks to consumer interests, public health, businesses and workers in the food sector. The briefing paper is published by Science Policy Research Unit at the University of Sussex.

Prices, quality, supply and the environment will all be adversely affected even with a ‘soft’ Brexit, the researchers show, warning that British consumers have not been informed about the “enormous” implications for their food, a third of which comes from within the European Union.

The report examines available industry and government data, policies and literature on a wide range of issues including production, farming, employment, quality, safety standards and the environment. It highlights 16 key issues that must be addressed by the Government in its negotiations with the EU. Among them, the following:

  • An urgent need for a clear integrated plan for UK food – the UK government currently has no UK food policy
  • Clarification on food crossing borders, particularly from the Republic of Ireland to Northern Ireland
  • New legislation to replace 4,000 pieces of EU law relating to food
  • Scientific and regulatory infrastructure, replacing at least 30 EU-based bodies
  • Farm viability and subsidies to replace the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP)
  • Fishing policies that are more than rejecting the 1964 pre-EU London Convention
  • Food labour – 35 per cent of food manufacturing labour is from the EU; more in parts of catering and horticulture
  • Some idea of from where UK food will come – as only around 54-61 per cent is currently UK-sourced
  • Tariffs – retail industry says tariffs could raise imported food prices by 22 per cent post-Brexit
  • Prices, which are already rising and likely to rise more, will become more volatile, especially harming poor consumers
  • Quality standards throughout supply chains, which are currently set by the EU, may well decline, and may do so abruptly.

“In the EU, UK consumers and public health have benefited from EU-wide safety standards, without which there will be a risk of the UK having less safe and nutritious products,” Professor Millstone 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 per cent of our food. Anyone who thinks that this will be simple is ill-informed,” Professor Lang added.

The report warns that a “Food Brexit” is of unprecedented importance and is happening at a time when the UK food system is already vulnerable, with self-sufficiency also in decline. The authors say the public, civil society and academics should put pressure on Government and MPs to publish policy commitment to a low-impact, health-oriented UK food system; create a new statutory framework for UK food, which authors term “One Nation Food”; commit to the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris climate agreement in any new food framework; and establish a new National Commission on Food and Agriculture to provide oversight and review, and to be a source of advice trusted by the British public.

The 86-page report is the first major review of the ways leaving the EU will have an impact on UK food and farming.
It report draws on more than 200 sources, including many interviews with senior figures across the food chain, as well as official, industry and scientific documents and statistics.

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