I was one of the speakers at an event on the impact of Brexit on food at the House of Commons last night. It was organized by the Food Foundation, Food Research Collaboration and the Food Ethics Council. The other speakers were Tim Lang of City University and Fiona Smith from Warwick who covered the complex international trade dimension which she described as a 'quagmire'.
Tim Lang claimed that the issue of how food and drink would be affected has been 'largely ignored' in the debate so far. His report suggests there will be 'volatility, disruption and uncertainty' in a post-Brexit trade world. 'The UK should wake up to the significance of our and the EU’s food role in this changed world,” said Lang. 'The public isn’t yet interested, seeing it as a matter of farming. This is dangerously wrong.'
I argued that Pillar 1 subsidies would be vulnerable after Brexit, Pillar 2 subsidies less so. Kerry McCarthy, the shadow cabinet member for Defra, asked why this was the case. I responded that Pillar 2 subsidies would be defended by a coalition of environmental and conservationist lobbies along with farmers, whilst Pillar 1 subsidies would be defended by farmers alone. Pillar 2 subsidies would also receive more support from academics as they were seen as providing public goods.
There was agreement among the panel that the emphasis needed to be on sustainability and that the CAP needed to address public health issues. There was increased public concern about these issues, but it would take at least ten years to make progress. If the UK remained in the EU, the Government needed to take a more systematic and engaged approach to CAP reform.
Kerry McCarthy made a good point when she referred to the Janus-faced nature of the CAP, on the one hand encouraging niche, high valued added, quality production and on the other hand intensive forms of commodity farming.
As President Obama pointed out, we live in an interconnected world and that is why we need a policy like the CAP, for all its imperfections.