The Green Alliance and the Food and Nature Task Force believes that if the Government is unable to reach a deal with the EU and unilaterally opens the UK to imports from other countries, not only will there be a glut of non-EU food imports, there could also be lower standards for food and agriculture, as well as increasing the UK's food footprint.
It claimed that if this situation came to pass, non-EU imports of chicken could expand by 17 times, butter by 26 times and cheese by five times. It also reported that food imported into the EU was four times more likely to exceed legal limits for pesticide residues than food produced here. However, this is something that Minister George Eustice has recently pledged will not happen.
The report also stated that although beef is more than twice as expensive to produce in the UK as in Brazil, the environmental impact of Brazilian beef is nearly three times higher, mainly due to deforestation, which would vastly increase the UK’s food environmental footprint.
The report set out a list of recommendations for Government post-Brexit. These included the support of high-quality food and farming through markets, funding and regulation, and to guarantee UK food and environmental standards would not be weakened in trade agreements, and that all imports met the same environmental standards as UK-produced food.
To help achieve these goals the report suggested introducing new environment quality metrics and standards, the use of the new farm payments system to help shift to more sustainable food production and giving the Food Standards Agency more resources and a wider remit.
Shaun Spiers, executive director of Green Alliance, said: “Some ministers have given warm words about not trading away our precious natural environment in return for chlorine-washed chicken. But the cold, hard logic of trade negotiations will render these assurances worthless unless they firmly commit to a trade policy that doesn’t threaten UK farming and the environment. The cheap food narrative of Liam Fox and others in Government should worry anyone who cares for the British countryside and the quality of the food we eat.”
Minette Batters, president of the National Farmers' Union, welcomed the report.
“While we still don’t know what our post-Brexit trading relationship with the EU will look like, and with less than ten months before we could start negotiating new trade deals elsewhere, we remain in the dark about what the Government’s overarching approach to trade policy will be – what it hopes to win and intends to concede within those deals,” she said. "And we still await a convincing explanation as to how the tension between protecting our own high standards of production and pursuing a cheap food trade policy will be resolved.
“This report carries some significant findings and important recommendations. It is right that a well-designed trade strategy, alongside domestic policy and regulation that supports our farmers, can benefit producers, consumers and the environment. Central to that must be a requirement that imported food and agricultural products meet the same environmental and welfare standards as UK-produced food.”