Brexit an opportunity to stamp ‘British-made’ on food, NFU insist

By Will Chu

- Last updated on GMT

Brexit an opportunity to stamp ‘British-made’ on food, NFU insist

Related tags: International trade, European union

Policy-makers must take Brexit as an opportunity to enhance the UK’s ability to produce British food, according to the president of the National Farmers Union (NFU). 

In a statement that reveals Britain produces only 60% of its own food, Meurig Raymond said much more could be done to improve this figure, which he said was falling and in long-term decline.

“Food self-sufficiency statistics have always been an important measure of the nation’s ability to feed itself,"​ he said.

“But since the UK voted to leave the EU, and with trade negotiations now starting, the supply of British food is now seen in a very different light. Government recognition of farming’s enormous contribution to this country will be vital in the coming weeks and months."

The NFU believe the UK is on a downward productivity trend as a result of long-term under-investment. If this continues, food production is projected to decline to below 50% by 2040.

The threat of a 'cliff edge' exit from Europe and a sudden withdrawal from the single market would be undesirable, with UK trading ties with the EU deeply interwoven, in respect of both imports and exports.

Import figures

Data from the UK Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) places fruit and vegetables as the top imported food in 2014 at €9.6bn (£8.7bn).

Meat was next at €6.6bn (£6bn) with beverages and cereals following closely behind at €5.8bn (£5.2bn) and €3.7bn (£3.3bn) respectively.

The union urged the government to strike import and export deals in order for British farmers to thrive, and to protect high standards and transparency across the supply chain for consumers.

“We’re not advocating a fully self-sufficient nation - we recognise the need for importing food which can only be produced in different climates,"​ commented Raymond.

“But what we should be doing is maximising on the food production we are good at, and looking at the potential for this. If we buy in foods that we are capable of producing ourselves then we risk exporting all the environmental, economic and social benefits that farming delivers here in Britain."

Raymond’s comments echo those of other food and drink associations, including the Food and Drink Federation (FDF), The International Meat Trade Association, and the Federation of Bakers.

The 10 commandments

In 10 key priorities for the negotiations with the EU to protect the UK's food and farming sector, the joint statement stated that an abrupt change would have enormous consequences for the industry, its employees and for the choice and availability of food in this country.

“Uncertainty around the shape of our exit from the EU, the future of our domestic farming and fisheries production, and a looming skills and workforce shortage threaten the viability of our businesses,”​ the statement outlined last month.

The 26 representative bodies from across the UK food and drink supply chain offered their expertise to the government in delivering a number of outcomes.

These include the quick negotiation of the right to remain for an EU workforce and their families, recognising the nature of the relationship with Ireland by agreeing a series of solutions on workforce, regulation and borders, and delivering continued zero-tariff and frictionless trade across borders.

Other priorities focus on regulation with the need to maintain consumer confidence in UK food safety and authenticity through a regulatory framework that ensures seamless trade.

Many of the priorities though emphasise a long-term view particularly in nurturing and developing UK-centric initiatives and businesses.

The associations also wanted a focus on developing homegrown talent and consultations over the needs of industry ahead of any new immigration scheme and a renewed boost in export support to help smaller food and drink firms grow the UK share in global trade.

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