Damning Food Brexit Report Demands “Time to Get Real”

As the Brexit negotiations open formally, a new report makes for worrying reading on the implications for food, farming and a range of related areas. A huge number of interconnected problematic situations await the UK in its agri-food planning, yet there seems to be precious little of this planning being done, Food Brexit: Time to Get Real finds.

Westminster, London, United Kingdom – June 25, 2016: Young female students pro-remain protesters carrying poster saying “You stole our future from us” as part of protests against Brexit in front of the House of Parliament in London, UK.

“The implications of Brexit for food are potentially enormous. This verdict applies, whether there is a ‘hard’ or ‘soft’ Brexit. The UK food system, consumer tastes and prices have been thoroughly Europeanised. This will be impossible to cut out or back by March 2019 without enormous consequences. The UK food system faces real challenges on food security.”

That’s according to a new briefing paper published by SPRU, the Science Policy Research Unit at the University of Sussex. The hard hitting report Food Brexit: time to get real (downloads .pdf) paints a stark and urgent picture.

40 years of agri-food, rural, health, environmental, consumer and other legislation have been integrated between the EU and UK. This means that new legislation is needed to replace 4,000 pieces of EU law relating to food. Moreover, prices will almost certainly increase with the inevitable tarriffs which define being outside of the EU, while labour shortages to do the work of food harvest, processing, and so on are likely with limits on the free movement of labour. Currently, over 30% of agri-food labour in the UK is migrant.

Professors Erik Millstone (University of Sussex) Tim Lang (City, University of London) and Terry Marsden (Cardiff University), conclude that leaving the European Union poses serious risks to consumer interests, public health, businesses and workers in the food sector.

Professor 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 per cent of our food. Anyone who thinks that this will be simple is ill-informed.”

The report hones in on 16 key areas. Among these, food quality and standards are a concern: “a vast array of institutions and scientific infrastructure keeps UK food fit to eat. Brexit campaigners did not inform consumers/voters that US agribusiness is salivating at the prospect of selling foods which have weaker standards, nor that foods derived on world markets use standards which are weaker than the EU’s and those of the USA.”

The report predicts price increases of 22% for imported goods, if a ‘hard Brexit’ is adopted. While there is little preparation for this overall vista, the report notes that while “the UK has no food policy” “Scotland and Wales have been developing their own visions; England is the problem.”

The poor will most likely be hardest hit:

“Brexit could, all too easily, diminish food security in the UK, where parts of our food system are already far too insecure; this rich country is pocketed with real food poverty, for example, and diet-related disease is part crippling the NHS. We understand food security to be the achievement of a system that provides food that is sufficient, sustainable, safe and equitable. Brexit could, however, undermine all four of those aspects, in what is an already insufficiently secure food system.”

Clarification is also urgently needed with food crossing the UK and Irish boarders in Northern Ireland. Since the peace agreement of 1998, the diary sector in particular has become a cross boarder operation. Milk at various states of processing crosses over and back daily.

As reported in January: “About a third of milk from cows in Northern Ireland is transported across the border for production into butter, cheese and infant formula, Mike Johnston, the Northern Ireland director for Dairy UK, told the Northern Ireland affairs committee.” This amounts of over 800 million litres of milk annually.

Irish farming trade Union the IFA point out that “Overall, in 2015, exports of agricultural products from Ireland to Northern Ireland (including food, drink, forestry and animal by-products) were €750m, with imports from Northern Ireland of €567m.

The UK market is a hugely important market for Irish goods and exports in general. By comparison with the agri-food sector, however, there is a much lower dependence on the UK market across other sectors in the Irish economy, with Ireland exporting €15.6b of total goods exports (13.9%) and €18b (18%) of services to the UK.”

The report recommends that the UK government should:

Give a policy commitment to a modern, low-impact, health-oriented UK food system, and set out how that will be achieved, with or without Food Brexit;

Create a new statutory framework for UK food, which we term ‘One Nation Food’; 

Link this new statutory UK food framework to the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the 2015 Paris Climate Change agreements (known as COP21);

Set new clear targets for UK food security (food supply, quality, health and consumption) which go beyond mere quantity of supply by addressing ecosystems and social systems resilience; 

Create a new National Commission on Food and Agricultural Policy to provide oversight and review, and to be a source of advice trusted by the public;

Make a clear and explicit commitment to address food matters in the Brexit negotiations which (bizarrely) has not been given;

Include in the above a continued but reconstituted, co-operative set of arrangements with the EU food agencies with regard to regulatory synergies in food trade and standards;

Develop an approach to food policy which is politically open and socially inclusive.

While the report’s summary concludes: “The realities of a Food Brexit are awesome. The British public has not been informed about its implications. Many people who voted for Brexit will be hardest hit by a ‘hard’ Brexit – people on low incomes, the elderly, farmers, people in the North of England. This paper urges politicians, civil society and academics who understand the food system to speak up and speak out. Brexit is a political construct. It should not be a recipe for food insecurity.”

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About Oliver Moore 216 Articles

Dr. Oliver Moore is the communications director and editor-in-chief with ARC2020. He has a PhD in the sociology of farming and food, where he specialised in organics and direct sales. He is published in the International Journal of Consumer Studies, International Journal of Agricultural Resources, Governance and Ecology and the Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development. A weekly columnist and contributor with Irish Examiner, he is a regular on Countrywide (Irish farm radio show on the national broadcaster RTE 1) and engages in other communications work around agri-food and rural issues, such as with the soil, permaculture, climate change adaptation and citizen science initiative Grow Observatory . He lectures part time in the Centre for Co-operative Studies UCC.

A propos d'Oliver Moore
Oliver voyage beaucoup moins qu’auparavant, pour ce qui concerne son activité professionnelle. Il peut néanmoins admirer par la fenêtre de son bureau les mésanges charbonnières et les corbeaux perchés au sommet du saule dans le jardin de sa maison au cœur de l’écovillage de Cloughjordan, en Irlande. L’écovillage est un site de 67 acres dans le nord du Tipperary. Il comprend d’espaces boisés, des paysages comestibles, des lieux de vie, d’habitation et de travail, ainsi qu’une ferme appartenant à la communauté. Les jours où il travaille dans le bureau du centre d’entreprise communautaire, il profite d’une vue sur les chevaux, les panneaux solaires, les toilettes sèches et les jardins familiaux. 

Ce bureau au sein de l’écovillage constitue en effet un tiers-lieu de travail accueillant également des collaborateurs des associations Cultivate et Ecolise, ainsi qu’un laboratoire de fabrication (« fab lab »). 

Oliver est membre du conseil d’administration de la ferme communautaire (pour la seconde fois !) et donne également des cours sur le Master en coopératives, agroalimentaire et développement durable à l’University College Cork. Il a une formation en sociologie rurale : son doctorat et les articles qu’il publie dans des journaux scientifiques portent sur ce domaine au sens large.

Il consacre la majorité de son temps de travail à l’ARC 2020. Il collabore avec ARC depuis 2013, date à laquelle l’Irlande a assuré la présidence de l’UE pendant six mois. C’est là qu’il a pu constater l’importance de la politique agroalimentaire et rurale grâce à sa chronique hebdomadaire sur le site d’ARC. Après six mois, il est nommé rédacteur en chef et responsable de la communication, poste qu’il occupe toujours aujourd’hui. Oliver supervise le contenu du site web et des médias sociaux, aide à définir l’orientation de l’organisation et parfois même rédige un article pour le site web. 

À l’époque où on voyageait davantage, il a eu la chance de passer du temps sous les tropiques, où il a aidé des ONG irlandaises de commerce équitable – au Ghana, au Kenya, au Mali, en Inde et au Salvador – à raconter leur histoire.

Il se peut que ces jours-là reviennent. Pour son compte Oliver continuera de préférer naviguer en Europe par bateau, puis en train. Après tout, la France n’est qu’à une nuit de navigation. En attendant, il y a toujours de nombreuses possibilités de bénévolat dans la communauté dans les campagnes du centre de l’Irlande.