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Food expert's Brexit warning

William Hatchett27/07/2017 - 14:00

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Tim Lang: Brexit warning
Tim Lang: Brexit warning

Brexit could be a recipe for rising food prices, reduced public protection and health-threatening, low-quality imports, a report co-authored by food expert and CIEH vice president, Tim Lang, has warned.

Calling for a national debate and a UK-wide food policy, the report states: ‘The UK food system ought to be improving its resilience. It isn’t. It’s like a rabbit caught in the headlights, with no goals, no leadership and eviscerated key ministries … the Food Standards Agency is a shadow of its former self. Defra has had years of cuts and suffers a serious staff shortage, just when the UK needs many of its best and brightest civil servants to negotiate.’

Arguing that there has been little or no discussion of food policy in relation to Brexit, the report explains that the UK imports most of it fruit and veg from Europe and that home production is declining. The pound sterling has been dropping and food prices, two years from the UK’s exit from the EU in 2019, are already rising.

The report speculates that healthy food may be more expensive and imported from long distances, post Brexit. Migrant labour, making up a third of agricultural workforce, will not be replaced by technology. It argues that there is no stated position on EU and Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) subsidies which currently make up half farming incomes and have only been safeguarded until 2022.

It states: ‘US agribusiness is salivating at the prospect of selling foods [into the EU] which have standards weaker than the EU’s and that of the USA … Brexit must not be an opportunity for further corporate capture of market power.’

The report, ‘A Food Brexit: time to get real’, calls for a new food act that is ‘practical and aspirational’ like the 2008 Climate Change Act. Applying even if the UK remained in the single market or customs union, the act would re-set UK food policy. Legislation would embed the principles of a low-impact, health oriented system, linked to UN sustainable development goals and the Paris climate change agreement.

There would be a National Commission on Food and Agricultural Policy with a UK-wide mandate, new performance indicators and targets on food security, quality and supply. Co-operative post-Brexit arrangements would be established with EU food agencies.

On food safety, it argues: ‘No food safety regulations should be modified without Parliamentary and public scrutiny. Ideologically dominated lobbies might think that food regulations are “burdensome” but the Faculty of Public Health and the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health see those regulations a providing indispensable protections.’

The report concludes: ‘The realities of Brexit for food are awesome. The British public has not been informed about its implications. Many people who vote for Brexit will be hardest hit by a “hard” Brexit – people on low incomes, the elderly, farmers, people in the north of England. [we urge] politicians, civil society and academics who understand the food system to speak up and speak out.’

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