Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Brexit a diversion from sustainability

The referendum on the UK’s European Union membership will have “momentous significance” for the country’s food system, according to a new briefing paper published by the Food Research Collaboration (FRC). The report – called 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 the authors – Professor Tim Lang, of City University London, and Dr Victoria Schoen, of the FRC – both consumers and businesses will be affected by a vote to leave the EU. This is a deviation from what the authors describe as the real task of getting the UK food system, from production to consumption, to be more sustainable. If the country decided to leave, food imports are predicted to become more expensive, prices would increase and there could be major disruptions to the finely tuned just-in-time supply chains on which the UK food system now depends.

With such prices increases for imported goods, it is suggested there could be consequences for the consumption of foods that the UK relies on EU nations to produce. For example, nearly 40 per cent of the UK’s total food supply of fruit and vegetables comes from the EU, and nearly 55 per cent of its supply of pigmeat.

The authors express concern about the health implications of Brexit, as diet now accounts for 10.8 per cent of the nation’s total disease burden (compared with 10.7 per cent for tobacco). According to the report, the UK is about 60 per cent food self-sufficient so should be wary of instant independence from the EU.

The authors also warn of a potential “food service and food factory crisis” if EU labour currently working in those industries lost their freedom of movement to be in the UK – figures show EU employees make up more than a quarter of the food manufacturing workforce (26.9%) and a tenth of workers in food and beverage services (11.3%). This compares with 6.1 per cent across the UK economy as a whole.

The paper can be accessed here: Brexit or Bremain

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