The possibility of the UK leaving the European Union on 29 March 2018 without having secured a deal has sparked fears of food shortages, with some manufacturers stockpiling ingredients.
This month, the Department for Food, the Environment and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) appointed David Rutley parliamentary under-secretary of state for food and animal welfare, effective immediately.
Rutley’s portfolio includes EU exit readiness, the food chain, animal welfare and climate change adaptation. He will also lead the food and drink industrial strategy.
At Asda, Rutley was head of the home shopping and e-commerce businesses.
Commenting on his appointment, Rutley said it was an honour to join DEFRA at such an important time.
“I am determined to ensure that we fully realise the opportunities of leaving the EU, building on the hard work and excellent efforts of my new colleagues, so we can fulfil our pledge to leave our environment in a better state than we found it and deliver a truly Green Brexit.
“I am very keen to support our food and drink sector across the whole supply chain from farm to fork. Working closely with Farming Minister George Eustice, I look forward to championing the very best British food and drink and helping the industry to lead the world and boost exports further.”
The president of confectionery and snack manufacturer Mondelēz Europe, Hubert Weber, told The Times the company had a contingency plan in the event of a hard, no-deal Brexit because the UK was “not self-sufficient in terms of food ingredients”.
“Like the whole of the food and drink industry in the UK, we would prefer a good deal that allows the free flow of products, as that would have less of an impact to the UK consumer.
“However, we are also preparing for a hard Brexit and, from a buffering perspective for Mondelēz, we are stocking higher levels of ingredients and finished products, although you can only do so much because of the shelf life of our products.”
This week the government issued its latest ‘No-Deal’ Technical Notices, in which it explored the implications of the UK leaving the EU without securing a deal.
Ian Wright, chief executive of the food manufacturing trade association, the Food and Drink Federation (FDF), warned it laid bare “the grisly prospect” of a ‘no-deal’ Brexit”. This included chaos at the ports, serious disruption to food supplies, increasing business costs, rising consumer prices and more administrative burdens on producers, suppliers, manufacturers and retailers.
“While the UK may not run out of food and drink it will certainly be scarcer and more expensive. UK shoppers, who have become accustomed to year-round availability of a wide range of safe, high-quality food and drink at all price points, will face a very rude awakening,” he said.