Brexit is the most serious challenge the food industry has faced since World War Two, according to the head of the Food and Drink Federation.
Ian Wright told the Food Matters Live conference in London this week that food and drink was more impacted by Britain leaving the European Union than any other business sector due to the high level of regulatory harmonisation and the reliance on imported food and migrant labour.
He cited a number of challenges that must be overcome including continued access to a farm to fork workforce of 4 million people, a quarter of whom come from the EU.
He also highlighted the vast number of tariffs that could apply to food products should the UK leave the EU without a trade deal, noting as an example that under a ‘no deal’ scenario a possible 10,600 tariffs could apply to a Mars bar imported into the UK.
Wright also said that the UK would need to build its own regulatory capability to replace EU bodies such as the European Food Standards Agency, which assesses the safety of pesticides and additives amongst other functions.
Speaking on the same panel, Sue Davies, chief policy adviser at consumer group Which, said that Brexit presented an opportunity for the UK to rethink its current food system so that it achieves positive outcomes for food safety, health and sustainability.
However, she also stressed the importance of being able to operationalise any new regulatory framework given that resources for enforcement are already being stretched. And Davies said that any decision to strip away the food sector’s existing regulatory framework would be disastrous both in terms of consumer protection and the UK’s future ability to trade with the EU.