Ian Wright, director general of the Food and Drink Federation (FDF), said he couldn’t think of a similar parallel outside wartime – however, he suggested that the situation also threw up opportunities.
“This is one of the most serious, and challenging threats and difficulties we have ever faced, but we should be self-confident about our role in dealing with it. This is a fantastic industry, and we run wonderful businesses,” Wright said.
Wright was addressing delegates at the FDF’s ‘Exiting the EU’ conference, in London last month.
‘Asking specific and difficult questions’
“It is essential that we approach this challenge in a constructive spirit, and I think it’s really important that we do play the role of asking specific and difficult questions of government, and of holding them account to the answers,” he said.
“We don’t need a hard Brexit or a soft Brexit – we just need a good Brexit, and not a dog’s Brexit.”
Wright said he was focused on defending the industry against the accusation of price rises and profiteering, and in favour of industry and manufacturers getting a fair deal.
“I do not think it’s helpful and constructive to have retailers positioned as the shopper’s friend, and manufacturers positioned as the shopper’s enemy. It may give one supermarket extra share over another, but it doesn’t get us very far in the long run,” he said.
‘All to play for’
Tim Lang, professor of food policy at City University, told the conference that there was “all to play for”, so it was important not to become too pessimistic.
He suggested that food was so important, and so much part of the UK’s Europeanisation of the past 43 years, that industry should be arguing for a separate UK food law.
“Because we have so many statutes, so many regulations, so many quasi and legal factors framing the food system, we need to make sure that it has its own parliamentary scrutiny,” Lang said.
The industry also needed to be more consumer-facing and speak with a more unified voice than just the FDF or the British Retail Consortium, he added.