UK food industry calls for ‘pause’ on food policy amid no-deal Brexit planning

By Katy Askew contact

- Last updated on GMT

Industry organisations representing the UK food chain have called on the government to halt “non-Brexit related policy consultations or initiatives”, insisting that they are overwhelmed with the need to prepare for the possibility of a no-deal withdrawal.

In a letter to Michael Gove, Secretary of State at the Department of Food, Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra) the food sector warned: “In fewer than 50 days, the UK will leave the European Union. The legal default is that we will do so irrespective of whether or not we have signed a withdrawal agreement and, at present, that no-deal Brexit looks ever more the likeliest outcome.

“Businesses throughout the UK food chain – and their trade associations - are now totally focused on working to mitigate the catastrophic impact of a no-deal Brexit. Large amounts of time, money, people and effort are being diverted to that end.”

The food industry wants to see the following consultations to be put on the back burner until the issues caused by Brexit and its aftermath are resolved.

Expected food and drink-related policy consultations include: 

  • A Deposit Return Scheme for England & Wales (with links to Scotland and NI possibly) 
  • A consistent national recycling collection service 
  • An overhaul of the current Producer Responsibility programme 
  • Proposals for a tax on plastic items with less than 30% recycled content 
  • Proposals to further restrict the advertising of HFSS foods and drink 

Defra consultations where food makers want to see timetable paused include:

  • Consultation on Protecting and Enhancing England’s Trees and Woodlands 
  • Fitness Check of the Water Framework Directive and the Floods Directive 
  • Improving our management of water in the environment

Expected consultations that food makers say should be delayed: 

  • National Action Plan on the sustainable use of pesticides
  • Clean Air Strategy - urea fertiliser use 
  • Consulting on a chemicals strategy 
  • Setting targets for the 25 Year Environment

This leaves scant resources to respond adequately to policy consultations on issues ranging from reformulation to allergen labelling the letter, singed by industry bodies including the Food and Drink Federation (FDF), National Farmers Union and category specific trade associations, argued.

“Neither we nor our members have the physical resources nor organisational bandwidth to engage with and properly respond to non-Brexit related policy consultations or initiatives at this time. Government has recruited many extra staff; we cannot.”

It cannot be “business as usual​” for the government, signatories insisted. “We very strongly urge you therefore to require of your Cabinet colleagues that a range of current and planned consultations that will impact food and drink, some of which are expected shortly, are firmly and clearly placed on “pause” until this uncertainty is over.”

“If government seeks to press ahead with these consultations it will be seen by some as a sign of bad faith and many organisations may decline to respond”

Responding to the letter, a spokesperson for Defra insisted that the department intends to push on with its policy priorities regardless.

“Leaving the EU with a deal remains the government’s top priority, and we are meeting weekly with representatives from our food and drink industry to help prepare for all scenarios,”​ the spokesperson stressed.

However, he continued: “While we have intensified our no deal planning, we are continuing to tackle other priority issues that matter to people, including our plans to reduce plastic waste and deliver a Green Brexit.”

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