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Brexit and its Impact on the Food Industry

The scary truth is that we are now in Brex-month and the possibility of a no-deal Brexit is still technically on the table. As we move unnervingly fast towards the 29th March, the government is still unsure of what life in Britain will be like from April onwards.

If the worst-case scenario does happen, then the UK will leave the EU with no transition period; a reality that would wreak havoc on the British food industry. The Guardian’s Jay Rainer commented that food insecurity “is the symptom of Brexit which is likely to have the quickest and most direct impact on the British populace.”

“Are we meant to start some serious mental preparations for the eventuality that supermarket shelves will be bare come the summer, or should we not worry and shrug off all this apocalyptic talk of food insecurity as fear mongering?”

Although the MPs on the ‘Exiting the EU Committee’ have said that the government must rule out a no-deal Brexit, this seems a worryingly idealistic statement to write in an official report. However, a Tory member of the Committee has criticised the report accusing it of adding more fuel to the “Project Fear” fire built by MPs who didn’t want to leave the EU in the first place. So, who do we believe? Are we meant to start some serious mental preparations for the eventuality that supermarket shelves will be bare come the summer, or should we not worry and shrug off all this apocalyptic talk of food insecurity as fear mongering?

“As of the end of 2017, 30% if the food consumed in the UK was imported from the EU.”

Facts being facts, as of the end of 2017, 30% if the food consumed in the UK was imported from the EU. The British government has already conceded that, as an estimate, 87% less freight will pass through Calais than the current levels, should a no-deal Brexit occur. Additionally, at the moment only 10% of the UK’s food imports are subject to World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules. If the UK were to revert to these deals in the eventuality of leaving the EU without a deal, then import costs would be greatly increased and, subsequently, this cost would be transferred onto the consumer’s pocket. Another compounding factor is that UK produce will be out of season at the end of March. At this time of year 90% of lettuces, 80% of tomatoes and 70% of soft fruit are imported from the EU.

Bearing all this in mind, it seems that “Project Fear” may be underpinned by more reality than the naïve pro-Brexiteer MPs want us to believe.

A letter written to MPs from the British Retail Consortium, signed by major food retailers like Sainsbury’s, Asda, McDonalds and M&S, among others, agrees. The letter warns that they are “extremely concerned that our customers will be among the first to experience the realities of a no deal Brexit,” and urges MP’s to “urgently to find a solution that avoids the shock of a no-deal Brexit.”

The Consortium adds that stockpiling fresh food, that would be imported from the EU, is impossible as the frozen and chilled storage facilities here are already full. Furthermore, the retailers tell MPs that they have been “working closely with our suppliers on contingency plans,” but “it is not possible to mitigate all the risks to our supply chains and we fear significant disruption as a result if there is no Brexit deal.”

“This all seems pretty damning evidence to suggest that a no-deal Brexit will result in significant disruptions to supplies.”

This all seems pretty damning evidence to suggest that a no-deal Brexit will result in significant disruptions to supplies; choice, quality and shelf-life could all be adversely affected. However, a spokesperson from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs reassuringly stated: “The UK has a high level of food security built upon a diverse range of sources… This will continue to be the case whether we leave the EU with or without a deal.”

The take away from this whole issue seems to be that there is a real danger that the UK will experience some food insecurity, despite the most optimistic beliefs of the Department for Environment, IF Britain leaves the EU without a deal. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that it doesn’t come to that; there’s still a few weeks for the government to save our Big Macs from being lettuce and tomato-less come April.

Sources used:

The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/food/2018/sep/15/food-and-brexit-will-the-cupboard-be-bare-jay-rayner

BBC:https://www.bbc.com/news/business-47028748?intlink_from_url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.bbc.co.uk%2Fnews%2Ftopics%2Fcp7r8vglgq1t%2Ffood&link_location=live-reporting-correspondent&fbclid=IwAR1NLMqlnq7M5dHiijd3Y3J14QXIx8E1Rc_76wpGiz9S2eLi0Md3sF0K0Ko

Jenny Katte

Featured image courtesy of Christoph Scholz via Flickr, no changes made to the image. Image license can be found here.

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