Leading food policy experts are warning the UK government, the food industry and the public that the political uncertainties surrounding Brexit could threaten the safety and integrity of food being sold and consumed in the UK and exported abroad. Anna Tobin reports
One of a series of Food Brexit Briefing Papers, Feeding Britain: Food security after Brexit, published July 23, 2018, considers how food, food safety and food regulations are being addressed by the government in the Brexit discussions. Authored by Professor Tim Lang of City University; Professor Erik Millstone of Sussex University; Tony Lewis, head of policy at the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health; and, Professor Terry Marsden of Cardiff University, the report claims that Brexit could pose significant risks to the flow of food into and out of the UK and that the government is making contingency plans to suspend food regulations in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
‘One could argue that this is sensible emergency planning,’ says Professor Lang, ‘but it is also risky. Consumers would rightly wonder who was guaranteeing the safety and quality of the imported food they were buying. Criminals would be alerted to opportunities for food fraud. And the move would send negative signals to the EU, at a delicate time in Brexit negotiations. It could make the UK’s third country status more problematic for exports.’
The White Paper Omits Retail And Food Service
The report also highlights that while the July Chequers Statement on Brexit and follow up White Paper recognises the importance of agri-food to Brexit, proposing close alignment with the EU for farming and manufacturing, it does not cover retail or food service. It states, ‘This injects a fault-line into the UK food system between production and service sectors, yet food service is by far the largest source of employment in the entire UK food chain and delivers more gross value added (29%) than the other sectors (agriculture 7%, wholesaling 11%, manufacturing 26%, retailing 27%).’
The report goes on to emphasise that the government is not clear on the question of migrant workers and how essential they are to the current working of the UK food system and it finds that too little attention is being paid to the special needs of Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland, whose economies are highly food-dependent.
‘There is a strong need for the joint production of a sustainable food framework which involves the devolved regions of the UK and the regions of England, such that it enhances food security and creates the basis for more healthy food consumption in the UK as a whole,’ says Professor Marsden.
UK Food Safety Regulations Should Not Change At This Time
Feeding Britain also claims that the Food Standards Agency should not be pressing ahead with major reform of UK food safety regulations at a time when a stable regime is required as the basis of trade and Brexit negotiations.
‘It is vital, in the context of negotiating and enacting Brexit, that the Food Standards Agency, and the UK government more generally, avoid any decisions, proposals or actions, that could adversely affect food safety standards in the UK or the reputation of the UK’s food supply,’ says Professor Millstone.
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