UK faces 'insecure future on food safety'

A tranquil scene on the home front in the British countryside where the majority of farmers voted in favour of Brexit
A tranquil scene on the home front in the British countryside where the majority of farmers voted in favour of Brexit

Claire Mc Cormack

Warnings the UK government is "sleepwalking" into a post-Brexit future of insecure, unsafe and expensive food supplies, reinforce the need for a "common sense" approach to negotiations in Brussels, a leading farm organisation has said.

Yesterday, three British food policy academics published a substantive study on the challenges Brexit poses to the UK food system.

Chief concerns include food insecurity, food safety and increasingly expensive food supplies on a scale "unprecedented for an advanced economy outside of wartime".

The report, 'A Food Brexit: Time to Get Real', said: "The silence about the future of UK food since the Brexit referendum is an astonishing act of political irresponsibility and suggests chaos unless redressed. The country could sleepwalk into a food crisis, unless these problems are acknowledged and addressed."

The paper highlights that Ireland is the UK's second-largest source of food, with imports worth £4bn (€4.6bn)annually.

Eddie Punch, general secretary of the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers' Association (ICSA), said the report points to the fact the UK, which is just 52pc self-sufficient in food, needs to maintain strong trade ties with Ireland.

"The report reinforces the need for common sense in the Brexit negotiations. The UK needs us and we need them and ultimately that is going to have to prevail in the ongoing Brexit talks in Brussels," he said.

The 88-page report notes that departure from the EU raises serious questions over the future of food safety in the UK, which the authors claim "will decline if the UK ceases to adopt EU safety rules, and instead accepts free-trade agreements with countries with significantly weaker standards".

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Mr Punch said this should serve as a "wake-up call" to UK supermarkets.

"Supermarkets in Britain need to be aware that they have put a lot of money into talking about traceability, quality assurance and standards. If they think that free-trade deals with countries with standards way lower is the way to go that's a catastrophic error.

"The British government must realise that whether it's a hard Brexit or a soft Brexit they have a need to import food and Ireland is one it's most important, most reliable suppliers of beef, dairy and so on. Common sense ultimately has to prevail in the negotiations," he said.

The ICSA said high tariff barriers with the UK and Europe are in nobody's best interests.

"Hopefully this report will give pause to thought for the UK government that they have a strong standing trading relationship with Ireland and because of our high standards in quality and traceability they shouldn't glibly assume that those markets can easily be replaced," he said.

Irish Independent

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