With at least 35% of the food eaten in the UK currently coming from the EU, there was a risk that food imported into the UK could be hit with tariffs or by customs barriers post-Brexit, the committee found.
Its report, ‘Brexit: food prices and availability’ warned that if an agreement could not be negotiated by the time the UK left the EU, the increase in tariffs could lead to significant price rises for consumers, while the additional customs workload could choke the UK’s ports and airports and significantly disrupt food deliveries.
It also found that even in a “best-case scenario”, in which the Government agreed tariff-free, frictionless trade imports on food and drink, international rules would oblige the UK to conduct more customs and borders checks.
With UK self-sufficiency in decline for the past 30 years and without a way for this to be quickly reversed, EU food imports could not be replaced easily by producing more in the UK, claimed the Committee.
Important choices to make
Lord Teverson, chair of the EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee, said the Government had some important choices to make.
“They have said they want to maintain high food standards, but also that they would be willing to have minimal customs checks to avoid disruption at borders,” he claimed.
They have said they want UK food and farming to be exemplars of high-quality production, but also that they will seek trade deals that secure lower prices for consumers.
“We are calling on the Government to set out what checks they do intend to carry out on food imports, to allow the food industry and customs authorities time to prepare and to reassure consumers that standards will be upheld.”
Teverson urged the Government to consider the impact that Brexit might have on food inequality in the UK.
“Will we have a situation where high-quality, local produce is available for those who can afford it, with cheaper food imported for those on lower incomes?” he said.
‘A comprehensive food policy’
“The UK needs a comprehensive food policy, to tackle these complex issues, and we urge the Government to produce one with some urgency.”
Food and Drink Federation chief executive Ian Wright said the report highlighted how essential it was for Government to prioritise the interests of UK food and drink in Brexit negotiations.
“We warned any increased friction at borders would prove costly for the entire supply chain and cause short-term disruption for businesses and consumers,” he said.
“The committee’s call for a comprehensive food security policy is encouraging, but as correctly suggested, there is still a serious gap between Government confidence and industry concerns.
“Government must keep the readiness of both industry and systems under review. Time is running short and Government must offer clarity and realism to businesses on future customs arrangements and the Irish border.”