Government has been told to develop a comprehensive food policy in order to make a success of Brexit for the food and farming industries and consumers, as outlined in a House of Lords report.
Brexit: food prices and availability, produced by the House of Lords EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee, stresses the government has to be clearer over what it wants regarding maintaining high food and welfare standards or delivering on promises of lower food prices for consumers.
The report found there was a “striking difference” between government confidence and the industry’s concerns surrounding a successful outcome for agriculture and its related industries following Brexit.
“[George Eustice] may not be worried about the potential for Brexit to impact on the price and availability of food, but the representatives of the food and farming industry, importers, port authorities and consumer organisations were vocal in their concerns,” said chairman of the EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee, Lord Teverson.
In total, 41% of UK food comes from overseas, 11% of which emanates from outside of the single market and is imported under 40 EU free-trade agreements covering 56 different countries.
Maintaining these free-trade agreements as well as achieving near-frictionless access to the single market would be essential in order to maintain the UK’s food supply and security when the transition period ends after December 2020, says the report.
However, the committee found even in a best-case trade scenario with the EU, with no tariffs and few customs barriers, international rules would force the UK to undertake more customs and borders checks than it does now.
Displacing EU imports with increased UK production or higher imports from non-EU countries would not be easy, according to the report, stating 30 years of declining UK self-sufficiency would take time to be reversed.
“The government has some important choices to make. They have said they want to maintain high food standards but also that they would be willing to have minimal customs checks to avoid disruption at borders,” said Lord Teverson.
Industry needs time to prepare
“We are calling on the government to set out what checks they do intend to carry out on food imports, to allow the food industry and customs authorities time to prepare and to reassure consumers that standards will be upheld.”
He added the government had presented a paradox where it would seek trade deals that secure lower prices for consumers, while UK food and farming were expected to be exemplars of high-quality production post Brexit.
“We would urge the government to consider the impact Brexit may have on food inequality in the UK: will we have a situation where high quality, local produce is available for those who can afford it, with cheaper food imported for those on lower incomes?” added Lord Teverson.
“The UK needs a comprehensive food policy, to tackle these complex issues, and we urge the government to produce one with some urgency.”