Measures to boost the UK’s science, research and innovation were received warmly by members of the Food and Drink Federation (FDF). However, it urged that the Government’s first priority must be to deliver a smooth and orderly exit from the EU and negotiate a best-in-class trade deal with the EU that prioritised food and drink.
FDF chief executive Ian Wright said these steps would allow the UK’s food and drink industry to extract maximum value from available future food supplies and contribute to the crucial wider carbon reduction agenda.
Commenting on the EU withdrawal agreement, Wright said: “There can be no more important priority in our negotiations with the EU than to secure the future of the UK’s food and farming industry and safeguard UK food security and consumer confidence.
EU critical to UK producers
“Near-EU markets are critical to UK producers. That is true for both for supplies of essential raw materials and exports of iconic value-added British products.”
Nick Molho, director at consultancy Aldersgate Group, said that environment and climate change must be at the heart of the Government’s policy agenda.
“This Government has the historic opportunity to push forward the most ambitious environmental and climate policy agenda on record,” said Molho.
“The Environment Bill announced [on 19 December] will be an important step in this direction: it should set robust environmental improvement targets, set tangible interim milestones and establish a truly independent Office for Environmental Protection.”
Access to talent
Wright also said any new global immigration system must enable employers to access the talent they needed at all skill levels and be workable for all business, including small and medium-sized firms and the many food and drink manufacturers who did not have to engage with the system previously.
“Over a quarter of the food and drink manufacturing workforce are EU nationals employed in roles across a range of skill levels – from scientists focused on cutting-edge research and development, to food technicians, fishmongers and food packers,” he added. “They make a massive contribution to the renowned efficiency and safety of the UK food supply chain.”
The FDF called for a new fisheries bill that ensured continued access to the supplies the UK needs at competitive prices and to focus on food quality and safety in any future trade deals. It also committed to working with the National Farmers Union to ensure manufacturers had access to adequate supplies of raw materials that were safe, of high quality and competitively priced.