UK policy unprepared for ‘Food Brexit’, states new report - News & Features

18 July 2017
UK policy unprepared for ‘Food Brexit’, states new report

A new report by leading food policy specialists has outlined some of the largest threats to food resilience and security in a post-Brexit landscape.

The report, by Professors Erik Millstone (University of Sussex), Tim Lang (City, University of London) and Terry Marsden (Cardiff University), argues that the UK will have to enact ‘the most complex’ change ever to its food system, but is woefully underprepared. Despite some discussion on the impact of Brexit on agriculture and fisheries, the wider food security picture has not been properly addressed.

Moving up (or down) the food chain

The report examines the available industry and government data, policies and literature, highlighting a number of major challenges which must be addressed by the UK Government and the European Union. These include:

  • An urgent need for a clear integrated plan for UK food – the UK government currently has no UK food policy
  • New legislation to replace 4,000 pieces of EU law relating to food
  • Scientific and regulatory infrastructure, replacing at least 30 EU-based bodies
  • Some idea of from where UK food will come – as only around 54-61 per cent is currently UK-sourced
  • Quality standards throughout supply chains, which are currently set by the EU, may well decline, and may do so abruptly.

Professor Millstone said: “In the EU, UK consumers and public health have benefited from EU-wide safety standards, without which there will be a risk of the UK having less safe and nutritious products.”

With a nod towards microbiology, the report advocates that a new British food policy should include aims to:

  • prioritise prevention of diet-related ill-health;
  • commit to high food standards across supply chains;
  •  reduce food waste from the food chain production to consumption;
  •  protect and advance farm animal welfare;
  •  protect and sustain health populations of marine life.

Food for thought

Tackling the minute details of this will be no mean feat. For instance, the UK has become accustomed to a certain level of food safety standards throughout its EU membership. Earlier in 2017, controversy arose when it was found that a post-Brexit UK may have to rely on imports of US meat which have undergone disinfection using chlorinated water or lactic acid: processes which are currently outlawed under EU legislation. Likewise, the potential for exposure of British stomachs to imported beef, reared using antibiotic growth promoters, is a cause for major concern.

Although it remains uncertain whether either of these events will come to pass, it is clear that future British food policy will require a national debate about food sourcing, food standards and food labelling. The scientific community must have a key role in communicating the correct scientific evidence for politicians, policymakers and the wider public to have a balanced, informed understanding.

Make a meal of it

Earlier this July, our Annual Conference demonstrated the important role of microbiologists, when it comes to matters of understanding food safety, measuring risk and educating the public. SfAM will be working to support applied microbiologists to make their voices heard throughout the Brexit negotiation process and beyond. If you have any thoughts or concerns about how Brexit will affect food security and safety, we want to hear from you! Please feel free to get in touch by emailing Chris at christopher@sfam.org.uk