Food industry could be ‘first hit’ by EU exit vote

By Michael Stones contact

- Last updated on GMT

An EU membership vote would threaten the food industry, argue some commentators
An EU membership vote would threaten the food industry, argue some commentators

Related tags: Eu membership, United kingdom, Eu

The food and drink industry may be among the first sectors to be hit, if the UK votes to quit the EU in two years’ time and firms should start planning to minimise the disruption that may follow.

That’s the assessment of food safety and brand protection firm Qadex, as the boss of the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), called for an in/out referendum as early as next year rather than in 2017.

Qadex operations manager Tracey Cranney said: “UK food manufacturers are swamped with European legislation, an EU exit would result in a grey area of compliance made even greyer as UK and even Scottish legislation starts to be enacted, this is a worst of all worlds scenario.”

Food safety teams in the UK are buckling under the pressure of implementing Threat Assessment Critical Control Point analysis, increased usage of unannounced audits, insufficient resources, regulatory changes, skills gaps, and now more regulatory upheaval could be on the say, she warned.

‘The referendum is a huge threat’

“The referendum is a huge threat to the British​ [food and] farming industry – the UK can’t fund farming at the same levels as the EU​. Quitting the EU could change the industry forever and businesses need to be prepared for all outcomes.”

If the UK decided to leave the EU and trade relationships were affected, manufacturers might have to look further afield for suppliers, she said. “Qadex software rigorously audits suppliers and eliminates risks for food businesses with extended food chains.” ​It was also said to help firms react quickly to the changing regulatory environment, such as the new labelling rules incorporated in the Food Information to Consumers Regulation.

BCC boss John Longworth

“Uncertainty is always bad for business. If we are going to have a referendum​ [on the UK’s EU membership], we should have one soon.”

The warning came just before BCC boss John Longworth urged whoever forms the next government after the general election on May 7 to stage an in/out referendum on EU membership next year rather than in 2017, as promised by prime minister David Cameron.

An early vote would end uncertainties that could plague business in the run up to the referendum, he argued.

‘Uncertainty is always bad’

“Uncertainty is always bad for business,”​ Longworth told BBC Radio 4’s Today​ programme. “If we are going to have a referendum ​[on the UK’s EU membership], we should have one soon.”

Most BCC members supported the country’s EU membership, he continued. “Our members overwhelmingly want to stay within the EU. But they do not want further EU integration or to join the eurozone.”

The BCC represents firms employing 5M workers.

Critics of the Conservative-dominated government accuse it of promising a referendum in order to blunt the political influence of the United Kingdom Independence Party, which favours an early exit from the EU​, in the run up to the general election.

Meanwhile, shadow food and farm minister Huw Irranca-Davies told delegates at the Oxford Farming Conference the uncertainty surrounding a referendum would be devastating” ​ for British business.

Scotland’s rural affairs secretary and farm minister Richard Lochhead warned: “Westminster’s in-out referendum on the EU is a £20bn gamble​ with the future of Scottish and British farming.”

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