Academics warn the UK is “sleepwalking” into food supply insecurity post-Brexit, with little idea about the scale of change or plans to cope with it.
The report, A Food Brexit: Time to get real, by three leading UK food academics, said Brexit could disrupt supply and prices for food in the UK on an unprecedented scale for an advanced economy outside of wartime.
“The silence about the future of UK food since the Brexit referendum is an astonishing act of political irresponsibility and suggest chaos unless redressed,” the report said.
“The country could sleepwalk into a food crisis, unless these problems are acknowledged and addressed.”
Professors Tim Lang of City University of London, Erik Millstone of the University of Sussex, and Terry Marsden of Cardiff University said they authored the 88-page report to fill the policy gap left by the government.
In the report they said although a third of Britain’s food is currently sourced from European Union (EU) countries, there appeared to be no government strategy to deal with any shortfall if supply was disrupted.
“The UK food system, consumer tastes and prices have been thoroughly Europeanised,” the report said.
“This will be impossible to cut out or back by March 2019 without enormous consequences—the UK food system faces real challenges on food security.”
The report also warned that a departure from the EU without addressing possible food and agriculture complications risks undermining food safety.
“There are also serious risks that standards of food safety will decline if the UK ceases to adopt EU safety rules and instead accepts free trade agreements with countries with significantly weaker standards,” it said.
The authors added that after 50 years of generally stable supplies and prices, the UK could return to the volatility of the past.
“With the UK importing 80% of its fresh vegetables and 40% of fresh fruit, a devaluated pound and potential tariffs could see prices significantly rise by as much as a fifth if the UK drops out of the EU with no trade deal,” the report said.
The report added that although the public said they favoured “buying British”, consumer tastes and purchasing habits had changed since the pre-EU era.
“British people often say they want to eat British but in practice they do something rather different and over the last half century, tastes have change dramatically,” the report said.
“A return to a 1950s or 60s pre-EU British era of food is unlikely and Churchillian romantics who see Brexit as an opportunity to relive imperial or wartime days go silent if the culinary era of tinned peaches and spam are mentioned.”
Through market research firm Neilsen’s estimate of Britain’s biggest food brands for 2017, the report highlighted that many brands the public considered British were in fact co-owned or manufactured by overseas companies.
Both Tropicana and Walkers crisps, once solely a local Leicester pork pie and crisp manufacturer, are now owned by Pepsico, the world’s second largest soft drinks company and US giant Coca-Cola owns over 90% of Innocent, a smoothies manufacturer, begun by two British entrepreneurs.
Nearly 52% of Britons opted to leave the EU during the referendum in June last year.
The United Kingdom formally triggered the Brexit process on 29 March and divorce negotiations officially began on 19 June, with an exit date in March 2019.
Biggest UK grocery brands 2016
- Cadbury Dairy Milk
- Birds Eye