Food for thought over ‘momentous’ Brexit vote

The FRC think tank predicted food imports would become more expensive following an 'out' vote. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
The FRC think tank predicted food imports would become more expensive following an 'out' vote. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
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The referendum on the UK’s European Union membership will have “momentous significance” for the country’s food system, according to a think tank report.

Drawn up by the Food Research Collaboration (FRC), the report – entitled Food, the UK and the EU: Brexit or Bremain? – argues the country must “wake up” to the enormity of unravelling 43 years of co-negotiated food legislation.

According to Professor Tim Lang of City University London and Dr Victoria Schoen of the FRC, who authored the report, both consumers and businesses would be affected by a vote to leave the EU.

Given an “out” vote, the paper predicted that food imports would become more expensive, prices would increase and there could be major disruptions to the finely tuned just-in-time supply chains up on which the UK food system currently depends.

The report said that while the common agricultural policy (CAP) and the common fishing policy (CFP) were in need of reform, improvement rather than abandonment was the key.

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“However it is not simply a choice about farming – the decision will affect the entire UK food system and all of our daily lives. Food prices will almost certainly go up, affected by a weakened sterling,” said Lang.

He said that if the country voted for Brexit, a “dig for victory” approach would be required on an unprecedented scale, adding: “And this won’t be using the EU labour that currently grows, picks and processes so much British food.”

He said the move would have considerable consequences for the consumption of foods that the UK relied on EU nations to produce.

“For example, nearly 40 per cent of the UK’s fruit and vegetables come from the EU, and nearly 55 per cent of its supply of pigmeat,” said Lang.

There were also considerable consequences for food security in a non-EU UK, with the country currently only around 60 per cent food self-sufficient.