Brexit poses huge risks to food standards in the UK and will have “seismic implications” for its food and farming systems, according to a new report.
Author Dan Crossley, executive director of the Food Ethics Council, said that the UK faced a stark choice between promoting a high quality, ethical and sustainable system and “a race to the bottom” driven by a desire to secure post-Brexit trade deals “at any cost”.
“There is a real possibility we will see a race to the bottom and lowering of food standards amid a desperate desire to secure trade deals,” he said
Crossley, one of the keynote speakers at the Global Sustainable Food Forum in Milan on Tuesday, said many UK famers and food suppliers would go out of business if the UK embarked on this course. And he warned lower standards would result in a drive to produce poor quality food as cheaply as possible, meaning poorer animal welfare and less emphasis on tackling issues such as climate change, biodiversity and soil erosion.
“It is a depressing picture. People would be faced with lower standards and worse quality food in the supermarkets. Chlorine-washed chicken has been talked about already, but there are lots more examples that we would see.” The conference, organised by the Barilla Foundation, also released a “sustainability index” on Tuesday which measured individual countries’ performance in terms of food waste, sustainable farming and nutrition. For the second year running it found France had the best score with the UK eighth out of 10 European countries – in front of only Russia and Greece.
Crossley said this highlighted the challenge facing the UK as Brexit approached.
“We either have a race to the bottom or a race to the top- this really is crunch time. The impression you get is that the UK is desperate to strike these trade deals at any cost and the risk is that all these other considerations are swept away in the process and that would have huge implications for generations to come.” Environment secretary Michael Gove has called for the UK to become a world leader in terms of food sustainability and environmental stewardship. Crossley welcomed the intention but said the UK must now back up those words with action.
“If we want the UK to be a leader on good, fair food, we really need to seize this moment, learn from what other countries are doing and become a beacon of excellence across the board.” The UK scored poorly in the index in terms of nutrition with a low rate of exclusive breast-feeding to six months and a high rate of fast-food outlets. Crossley said that it showed that the deals trade negotiators strike over the coming months and years would have huge impacts on food, health and the environment for generations to come.