Brexit poses "serious risks" to food supply, academics warn

Catherine Neilan
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Around a third of our food is exported (Source: Getty)

If you thought the days of Brexocalyptic warnings were over, think again.

A report published today warns that leaving the EU poses "serious risks" to our food supply chain, and that the government's failure to grasp the issues could plunge the UK into chaos.

A hard Brexit could see food prices rise by up to 22 per cent, but even a soft Brexit will hit "prices, quality, supply and the environment", the report - published by SPRU, the Science Policy Research Unit at the University of Sussex - claims.

Written by leading three food policy specialists, the report claims that this is because there is no government vision for UK food or agriculture in the new world order. They warn that British consumers have not been informed about the "enormous" implications for their food, a third of which comes from within the European Union.

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The 86-page report is the first major review of the ways leaving the EU will have an impact on UK food and farming.

Professor Tim 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."

He added: "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.

"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.

"The government has provided next to no details on agriculture and fisheries, and there has been total silence on the rest of the food chain where most employment, value adding and consumer choice are made. 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."

The report makes 16 recommendations, including calling for a "clear, integrated plan for UK food" and clarification on food crossing borders, as well as new legislation for 4,000 pieces of EU law relating to food.

It also notes that new scientific and regulatory infrastructure, replacing at least 30 EU-based bodies, will be required, as well as farm subsidies to replace the EU's Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and fishing policies "that are more than rejecting the 1964 pre-EU London Convention".

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The report, which draws on more than 200 sources, warns that Brexit is happening at a time when the UK food system is "already vulnerable, with self-sufficiency also in decline". Only only around 54-61 per cent is currently sourced from the UK.

Professors Millstone, Lang and Marsden say their report is a "wake-up call to the public and a government that has little experience of food negotiations and has failed to warn consumers of the disruptions ahead".

Millstone 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."

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