Brexit will disrupt food supply chains, warn Lords

11 May 2018

Just-in-time food supply chains are likely to be disrupted by the UK’s exit from the EU whether or not a trade deal is agreed, Lords have said.

The House of Lords’ European Union Select Committee said it seems “unavoidable” that Brexit will result in some additional border checks, and that this will increase the time it takes for food to reach shelves.

In a report on the impact of Brexit on food prices, the committee said: “Significant delays will disrupt the just-in-time supply chains that food manufacturers and retailers depend on and could affect the availability of food.”

It called on the government to do a “thorough assessment” on the additional staffing, infrastructure and IT requirements UK borders would need for different potential post-Brexit EU relationships.

Prime minister Theresa May has already confirmed the UK will be leaving the EU customs union.

The report called on the government develop a comprehensive food security policy for the UK. Lords said this policy needed to answer questions including whether the UK should prioritise food price or quality after Brexit, and whether the UK wants to increase its waning self sufficiency or focus on increasing imports.

Currently 30% of the UK’s food is imported from the the EU and another 11% is imported from non-EU countries through trade deals agreed by the EU. In total half of the UK’s food is imported, and self-sufficiency has been declining over the last three decades, the report said. It added financial incentives and investments would be needed to reverse this trend.

The report said if a post-Brexit trade deal with the EU could not be negotiated, the average tariff on food imports would be 22%, although this would not necessarily result in an average price increase of that amount.

Lords also raised concerns about the impact Brexit might have on labour throughout the food supply chain, something previously raised by British Growers Association.

A spokesperson said the government would respond to the report “in due course”.

They added: “Food prices depend on a range of factors, including commodity prices, currency exchange rates, and oil prices – this will continue to be the case when we leave the EU.

“But we also want to ensure consumers have access to a wide range of food, which is why we are considering how we best manage border checks and controls when we leave the EU without impacting the smooth flow of trade.”

This is the second parliamentary report in two weeks raising concerns about the impact of Brexit on the UK’s food supply chains. Last week a separate report by the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee warned of “substantial risk” to the agri-food and chemicals industries because government departments were not prepared.

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