Government is ‘schizophrenic’ about food system post-Brexit

By Rick Pendrous

- Last updated on GMT

Will cheap global food imports be all the poor can afford to buy?
Will cheap global food imports be all the poor can afford to buy?

Related tags Global food security Sustainability Agriculture

British diets could become far more polarised post-Brexit, with the rich enjoying more expensive local food produced to high production and welfare standards, and the poor relying on cheap, imported food made to much lower standards, a leading academic has warned.

One of the risks here is of a two-speed Britain,”​ claimed Tim Benton, professor of population ecology, champion for global food security and professor of the Population Ecology School of Biology at Leeds University. He was giving evidence to the House of Lords Energy and Environment sub-committee last month.

Benton laid the blame for this potential scenario at the “schizophrenia”​ being demonstrated within government.

‘Cheap food at any price’

He criticised international trade secretary Liam Fox for seeking “cheap food at any price”,​ while environment secretary Michael Gove argued for greater protection of the UK environment to help drive the rural economy with lots of artisanal food producers.

“That schizophrenia is something that we are not examining enough because that could be a really uncomfortable place for many consumers as well as producers,”​ warned Benton.

“We have local agricultural policies that support high-quality agriculture providing for a premium market. And then we have imported, cheap food Britain; global Britain for those that can’t afford it.

“We tend to think that cheap food is what we should be aiming for, whereas values are much more diverse than the value of food.”

‘Value of food’

Benton highlighted recent concerns over pathogen reduction treatments for poultry, together with genetically modified organisms, and hormone-injected meat in the US to support his argument.

It was a view supported by Tim Lang, professor of food policy at City University, who also gave evidence to the committee.

Lang described Brexit as a “major disruptor and threat”​ to the UK’s self-sufficiency in producing high-quality, sustainably produced food – with horticulture particularly under threat.

He also stressed the importance of investing in the UK’s domestic food supply chain infrastructure to underpin its food security.

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