The demand is part of a five-point manifesto, published by the Food and Drink Federation (FDF), which also calls on politicians to agree a transition phase to help the sector negotiate Brexit and any resultant changes to trade tariffs, access to labour and regulations.
The manifesto was published as the UK parliament was dissolved in preparation for the national election on June 8th. The new government will be tasked with steering the country through Brexit – and it won’t be easy. This week, relationships between Brussels and London appeared to deteriorate, with reports suggesting that no future trade deal will be discussed until the British government comes to an agreement on the estimated €60bn ‘divorce bill’ and citizens rights.
Brexit remains a major concern for Europe’s food and drink companies, according to a survey published by FoodNavigator last month.
FDF said UK companies had much to lose and plenty to gain from leaving the EU. The risk of a “cliff edge” scenario – in which a deal with Brussels doesn’t materialise – must be avoided.
However, the next government could “turbo charge” exports, which will also help prepare the industry for a “more competitive future” outside the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). “We are looking for the next Government to work with us so our firms are ready to take advantage of growing demand, including new opportunities in non-EU countries,” the FDF manifesto reads.
The federation has also called for new policies to increase levels of home-grown talent and a “stable regulatory regime” that ensures the UK is “highly competitive and does not discourage business investment with regard to EU competitors and the rest of the world”.
The UK’s levy on sugar-sweetened drinks – due to come into force next year – is certainly controversial, but if it proves successful then politicians could well look at extending the concept to certain foods. FDF, a vocal critic of the drinks tax, said this would be a bad idea.
The new government must “provide financial certainty to industry by confirming there will be no further nutrient taxes on foods”, it said. This would offer companies “the security to commit financing to long-term, costly calorie reduction programmes”.
Indeed, a new “holistic calorie reduction programme” is needed. This would focus on portion sizing, marketing healthier options and driving behaviour change. More public funding will be required to investigate how healthier foods can be made the foods of choice. “Reformulation takes time, involves technical challenges and incurs great costs,” FDF explained.
FDF also used its manifesto to highlight the importance of the sector to the UK’s economy, and the need for a Brexit deal that’s good for business. The food and drink industry is the UK’s largest manufacturing sector, contributing €33.4bn (£28.2bn) to the economy annually and employing more than 400,000 people.
“Food is a matter of national security,” explained director general Ian Wright. “Food and farming is the sector most impacted by exiting the EU. It is imperative that the new government recognises this, and the importance of the food and drink industry in relation to the success of the wider UK economy.”