Food sector must lobby harder over Brexit

By Rick Pendrous

- Last updated on GMT

The UK's agri-food sector will not be a top priority in Brexit negotiations unless stakeholders unite to lobby government
The UK's agri-food sector will not be a top priority in Brexit negotiations unless stakeholders unite to lobby government

Related tags Crop protection Agriculture

The UK’s food and drink supply chain stakeholders have been advised to unite in making sure the industry’s interests take centre stage during the tough Brexit negotiations that will take place over the next two years.

Speaking at a panel debate organised by the Crop Protection Association (CPA) at its 2017 Annual Convention last Thursday (May 18), Food and Drink Federation corporate affairs director Tim Rycroft and other speakers made the case for adopting a more united voice in lobbying government.

“It is important for us to remember at all times that this is a political negotiation and the government of the UK will not only be looking out for what is the best economic outcome for the UK … it will also be looking at how it establishes political domination.”

Rycroft added: “We mustn’t lose sight of that and, of course, the same will be true across the Channel … We will only get to a good outcome in these negotiations if our industry sticks together and if we continually lobby the government on behalf of the whole food chain.”

The panel was chaired by CPA ceo Sarah Mukherjee, and included Professor Lin Field, head of chemistry and crop protection at Rothamsted Research, Dr Chris Brown, Asda’s sustainable business director and Mike Craven, co-founder of Lexington Communications.

‘Risk-based Brexit regime’

“Confidence is all in all areas of economic endeavour and we need a clear and transparent regulatory transition to the new risk-based Brexit regime,”​ said Mukherjee.

Craven spoke about the challenges facing the food and farming sectors, and crop protection in particular: “My biggest concern for this sector is ignorance. Government, politicians and the public do not understand this industry and this is a problem ​– understanding comes before empathy.

“And DEFRA ​[the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs] has been a relatively weak player in Whitehall, and this is also a problem.”

Because of this ignorance about the food and farming sector, it was not yet considered front-line in terms of Brexit negotiation, claimed Craven, even though Prime Minster Theresa May had stated that food was one of the government’s priority sectors, alongside pharmaceuticals, automotive and financial services.

As a result of the EU’s regulatory record in the agri-food sector, Craven argued: “Europe is in danger of becoming a museum of world agriculture. Its drift away from evidence-based policy making ​– as we have seen over the past few years over GM ​[genetically modified] foods and more recently on glyphosates​ [herbicides] – gives the UK a unique opportunity to make itself even more attractive as a place to invest.”

New opportunities for the UK

He went on to describe his worries about the prospects for developing new trade deals, in particular between the UK and the US, Australasia, India, China, and emerging markets.

“That’s one of the concerns about a post-Brexit world,”​ he warned. “There will inevitably be pressure to ​[sacrifice] what many people regard as low added-value agricultural activity for high value professional services.”

To counter this risk, he said it was essential to re-emphasise the economic importance of the food and drink sector to the UK economy, as a technological and scientific world-leader, supporting many highly skilled jobs.

There will inevitably be trade-offs in negotiations with the EU, said Craven: “The industry, in order to benefit from those trade-offs, needs to be united, professional and much more politically effective to make its voice heard.”

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