The great Brexit food fight
Food and farming is the number one issue for campaigners in the new post-EU world, says Simon Birch.
Shock, disbelief and, yes, even anger. This is how many people who thought that the environment and ethical consumerism were better served by us staying in the EU reacted to the news that the UK had in fact voted to leave.
But whilst it’s still a struggle to get used to the new normal of the UK being outside the EU, it’s vital that we now focus on making sure that ethics and the environment don’t get dealt a raw deal in the rush to leave Brussels.
One of the biggest concerns for campaigners that’s now emerging from the Brexit fallout is the future of British food and farming, one of the biggest sectors of the UK economy. From animal welfare to wildlife, and health to climate change, how our food is produced has a massive impact on our everyday lives and, crucially, no other sector is so completely entwined with the EU.
For the past 43 years, virtually all the rules and regulations that influence the food on our plates have been made by Brussels. Now though, the future of the UK’s food system is up for grabs. So what’s been the EU’s impact on food policy and production?
Professor Tim Lang from City University claimed:
“The EU brought a mix of stability and madness, democracy and industrialisation of the food system, in short a bundle of contradictions but one which was orderly after a fashion”.
“We need to articulate what ought to be happening for the UK food system, whether in or out of the EU” .
Though deeply disappointed with the vote to leave the EU, Professor Lang believes that it’s crucial that everyone who wants a more sustainable and equitable food system in the UK now speaks out.
One of the first acts to ensure a more sustainable food system post Brexit came this July from Sustain, the alliance of over 100 different groups that campaigns for better food and farming. In a letter to the new cabinet, Sustain called on Brexit ministers to adopt food and farming policies that are good for jobs, health and the environment. Significantly the letter was signed by over 80 different organisations whose interests range from farming to child health.
Ben Reynold from Sustain:
“Whilst the commitment to a better food and farming system isn’t new, this level of engagement from these different groups is unprecedented,”. “Many see that Brexit could threaten what they’ve achieved over the past decades.”
Reynolds believes that our Brexit negotiators must cut a deal that’s beneficial to food, farming and the environment.
“It’s crucial that we ensure that progressive EU legislation is kept and continues to be developed, especially protection for environmental and health standards and consumer rights.”
Amazingly, given the amount of misery it’s caused, Sustain believes that Brexit does offer some good news: “This is a real opportunity for government to create a truly joined up food and farming policy,” says Reynolds.
“They can no longer pass the buck to the EU, but ensure that subsidies and laws, public procurement and trade policies work together to make it easier for people to buy healthier and sustainable food.”
Fairtrade and trade rules
So much for the good news. The bad news is that Sustain and its partner organisations which it works with are now seriously concerned that the UK’s food and farming standards, together with environmental protection guarantees, will simply be torn up in the drive for new trade deals at any cost.
And it’s not just farmers in the UK that face an uncertain future from Brexit. The future of millions of farmers and workers in developing countries, who sell everything from coffee to cocoa to the UK, has now been thrown up in the air thanks to Brexit, something which is causing alarm bells to ring for Fairtrade campaigners.
Michael Gidney chief executive of Fairtrade Foundation:
“The decision to leave the European Union will have profound consequences for poor farmers and workers around the world, including those growing Fairtrade products”.
All the trade deals currently in place via the EU will need to be renegotiated, explains Gidney.
“Fairtrade will be working to ensure that the farmers and workers around the world who grow our food are not forgotten,” he says. “We will continue to fight for trade justice.”
This article was written by freelance writer Simon Birch, twitter: @SimonBirchSays.
Further Reading: See our sustainable food section.