Friday, 21 October 2016

Brexit: and the UK food system

Food issues are a big part of the Brexit picture:
Futures Forum: Brexit: and food prices
Futures Forum: Brexit: and food waste

The group 'Sustain' is concerned that "our leaders will create new trade deals that sweep aside sustainability standards, climate change commitments, fair dealing, consumer protection, humane production and investment in international development, bowing to intense pressures to deregulate":
Brexit: opportunities and threats for our food, farming and fishing - Sustain

The Sustainable Food Cities network has similar concerns - as voiced immediately after the referendum:

Brexit and the UK food system

Whilst the implications of the Brexit vote on our food system and environmental legislation are yet to be fully understood, a series of studies have been undertaken to help us understand the breadth and depth of these consequences and there will no doubt be further more:

• Stephen Devlin, New Economics Foundation, 'What Brexit means for Britain’s food', looks at the top policy priorities for the years ahead if we want to shape a fairer, healthier and more sustainable British food system. Read the article here

• Tim Lang, 'Food, Brexit and the Consequences: what can academics and the UK food movement do?', highlights the tasks at hand for the food sector after Brexit, as well as possible solutions. Read the article here

• Tim Lang's article in the Guardian, 'How will leaving the European Union affect our food?', looks at consequences on food prices and food security in the UK as well as the viability of farms in a post-CAP world. Read the article here

• This article from Food Navigator looks at the risks posed by Brexit, including rising food prices, watered-down safety standards, food law dictated by big-business, and a negative impact on public health. Read the article here.

• The Institute for European Environmental Policy has published a paper exploring the environmental implications of potential changes to UK agricultural policy post-Brexit, highlighting threats and opportunities. Read the paper here.

• Good Food Oxford have written a summary of some of the articles above and suggest a few others. Read their article here

All this was addressed in London earlier this week:

Food industry urged not to lose sight of sustainability issue, post-Brexit

By Will Chu , 17-Oct-2016

The UK's exit from the European Union is an opportunity to reshape its food and farming policies to ensure long-term sustainability of jobs, health and the environment.

Speaking at the Food and Drink Innovation Network in London this week, Dr Tim Lang, professor of Food Policy at City University London, called on the government to adopt ways to sustain the long-term health of food supply chains.

The solutions, he stated, needed to move rapidly in a more sustainable direction regardless of whether the UK stayed or left the EU.

“The evidence of what should be happening in the food system is nothing to do with what Brexit is about,” he said. “We should be decarbonising and dehydrating. By that I mean reducing water stress and rendering its use in our food system.”

“We also need to be investing in soil systems. Soils in Britain are not in a good situation. This is true of a number of agricultural areas of the world.”

Spotlight on sustainability

The need to reduce the UK food system’s carbon footprint so food did not damage eco-systems, lives and health was paramount. ©iStock/Petmal
The events of Brexit, said Lang, had pushed food sustainability higher up on the agenda, with the need to reduce the UK food system’s carbon footprint so that food was not damaging to eco-systems, lives and health.
“The food industry must not lose sight of the sustainability of diets. How can one connect the need to reduce carbon?,” he asked.
“Successive governments have not rescinded the climate change commitments. The UK government signed onto the Paris climate change accord in 2015 [COP 21] as well as the sustainable goals last year in New York.”
“These are all overarching frameworks that are ‘over’ the EU. These are now going to have to shape the future of the food system.”
Likewise, the UK was amongst a handful of countries that signed up to the United Nation's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) last year that set targets on ending poverty and hunger, improving health and education, making cities more sustainable and combating climate change.
While a shift in people’s diets was primarily driven by health, the long-term environmental sustainability could not be achieved without massively cutting down on the use of grains for meat and dairy production, he said.
“Food is the single biggest source of European consumer impact on climate change. 30% of all greenhouse gases that a consumer emits are through food. How people eat [and] what they eat has got to change.”
“This cannot be done without altering meat and dairy. In my view it is impossible to meet the sustainable goals or the British climate change goals without fundamentally changing British diets.”

Trade gap troubles

The UK trade gap has been rising for a number of years now and currently stands at €23bn (£21bn) a year. ©iStock
Lang also commented on how Brexit highlighted the UK’s reliance on the rest of Europe for food. The Food Trade Gap, he said had been rising slowly for years, with a slight drop in the past year. Many believe it was the rationale for the current Government’s focus on exports.
In 2014 , UK exports totalled €20.9bn (£18.8bn) of food, of which €19.1bn (£17.3bn) was processed. The UK imports €43.8bn (£39.5bn), of which €35.6bn (£32.1bn) is processed.
“Food and drink is the greatest source of the trade gap of any sector. We have a trade gap of food of €23bn (£21bn) a year and rising. The politics of Brexit was about getting back control. In fact how we eat and drink is now reducing this control.”

“With the biggest restructuring of diets along with, in effect carbon rationing, and the restructuring post Brexit, this paints a very interesting yet positive complication for the food industry to focus on. 

Food industry urged not to lose sight of sustainability issue, post-Brexit

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