Brexit will devastate food and farming standards

For the £110bn-a-year agriculture and food sector in the UK, the EU accounts for 60 percent of exports and 70 percent of imports. As there is likely to be no trading or customs agreement with the EU, it will mean that we will have to trade with the EU on World Trade Organisation (WTO) tariffs. The WTO tariffs will increase the price of goods coming into the UK, and this will have a significant adverse impact on the agricultural industry and consumers.

Although we will be able to agree on trade deals with other parts of the world (if we leave the EU), we should not compromise on our high standards for animal welfare, environmental and food standards. The government also needs to ensure that whatever border agreement they finally settle on, that movement of food perishable goods is not at risk.

The Government must not allow imports that have not been produced to UK standards into the country. We cannot be taken in by claims by the likes of Liam Fox’s suggestion of “Don’t be afraid of US chlorinated chicken after Brexit” (remember John Gummer: when he had responsibility for food safety during the mad cow disease epidemic in 1989–90 which claimed 176 British lives. At the height of the crisis, he attempted to refute the growing evidence for by feeding his 4-year-old daughter, on a beach, a burger before the press. If I remember, correctly she didn’t eat the burger).

Responding to the LGA’s report outlining the effects of Brexit on the UK food and farming industries, former Liberal Democrat Leader and Spokesperson for the Environment and Rural Affairs, Tim Farron, said:

“Withdrawing from the EU will entail severing ties to fundamental regulatory bodies responsible for maintaining food standards. It is clear that the Tories have no substantial plans to replace or replicate this key, underappreciated element of EU infrastructure.

“The UK makes routine use of these bodies, which ensure that the food on our plates is a high quality, and provide incentives for responsible, sustainable farming.

“This report highlights the devastating implications of Brexit to farming and food standards, and the Tories must sit up and listen.”



* Cllr. Tahir Maher is a member of the LDV editorial team

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This entry was posted in News and Op-eds.


  • Mark Seaman 30th May '18 - 2:54pm

    WTO tariff rates are the maximum that can be used. Lower rates (as low as nil) can be used even without a trade agreement and are termed ‘Applied Rates’, hence your initial point about higher prices makes no sense.

  • Another loon appearing on the horizon.

  • Tahir Maher Tahir Maher 30th May '18 - 3:03pm

    Mark – the fact that the rates can be nil doesn’t mean they will be. There is a genuine risk that the rates may well be applied (as many have been saying for quite a while). To be honest I have not heard any commentator suggest that the WTO rates will be ‘applied rates’. If they were that would be good for us.

  • Arnold Kiel 30th May '18 - 3:25pm

    If, under WTO-rules, the UK wishes to apply lower import tariffs, it must do so for every country (most favoured nation clause), but is not entitled to reciprocity by the beneficiaries of this decision. Apart from inviting sub-standard products which have travelled longer and in a less controlled environment, subsidies to British farmers must increase to keep them in business, a rather unlikely reaction from the quoted Tory champions of free global trade. In light of demographic trends and climate-change, giving up fertile UK land and food self-sufficiency is not a prudent policy.

  • William Fowler 30th May '18 - 3:50pm

    Given that we are a very long way from self-sufficiency in food, don’t think our position is going to be very strong and UK farmers are already preparing us for higher prices by saying they can’t get cheap labour any more. Tariffs aren’t the only problem, no deal will also mean lower value of Sterling and increase cost of buying stuff. On the other hand, consumers have been refusing to pay higher prices so not sure where that is all going to end up.

  • “we should not compromise on our high standards for animal welfare, environmental and food standards. ”
    What high standards are those then?

    Does us remaining in the eu stop industrial scale beef farming ???? oops NO, it seems the uk is already participating in industrial scale farming
    Not to mention the industrial scale bird farming that takes place in the continent.

    What about the over use of Antibiotics that is clearly a danger to human health as more bugs are becoming resistant to antibiotics? What does the EU have to say about that??? Silence!

    The EU is a protectionist racket, it imposes quota’s on us from countries outside of the EU, driving up costs.
    Please tell me why oranges and tangerines from the likes of Spain and Portugal are better for me than those from south Africa? and yet the EU imposes quotas on oranges. It cant be that the Oranges are bad from South Africa and a danger to our environment, as they would surly be banned and not just limited.

    Once we are free to strike our own trade agreements with the ROW, food prices will come down, the EU will have to compete with those prices.

    All this talk of standards is nonsense, it is a smoke screen for the protectionist rackets of the EU.

    Once we leave CAP, the UK can create it’s own subsidies for farmers that reward “real” environmental standards and responsible farming

  • One positive of leaving the EU is being out of the illiberal, expensive and damaging Common Agricultural Policy (CAP)

    Not that leaving the EU is an overall positive thing to do (I campaigned to Remain), but this is one of the tangible and unambiguously positive aspects of leaving. I suspect the positive of it will be dampened by the Conservatives throwing bungs to farmers in rural constituencies, recreating the system of the CAP with a similar British version

  • MORE THAN 15 years after the mismanagement of the Rural Payments Agency first came to light, today’s scathing report by a Parliamentary committee does not bode well for the future of agriculture – or Brexit.
    Quite the opposite. It’s failing to pay EU subsidies promptly, causing cashflow difficulties for farmers, and is evidently in no position to deliver post-Brexit strategies that will have an increased emphasis on the natural environment.

    To get the wider benefits of a hard Brexit, many Brexiteers are advocating a lowering of tariffs and a cutting of red tape. In this scenario, where the government agreed trade deals that led to lower quality food produced to lower environmental and welfare standards than the status quo, the “race to the bottom” would come whether British farmers were part of it or not.
    If farmers wanted to continue to be the main producer of food consumed in the UK, the government would have to allow them to lower their standards to cut costs too, and Gove’s supposed commitment to environmentalism and quality food would come crashing down pretty quickly. If not, there would still be a large domestic market for cheaper food like the Sainsbury’s Basics and Tesco Value ranges. Without subsidies guaranteed long term and without protection from countries with lower standards, British farmers would just be ceding the market to foreign imports.
    It seems optimistic to expect the domestic agriculture sector to make up the resulting income shortfall by exporting a bit more farmhouse Cheddar or a few more organic carrots to the rest of the world. Even if it could, through our national consumption we’d just be exporting environmental degradation, our carbon footprint, and poor animal welfare to the rest of the world.
    That’s the beauty of the single market: by being part of a large bloc with harmonised standards, not only can we trade with our closest partners on equal terms, we have the economic clout to hold out for higher standards of imports too, pushing up standards across the world.

    If I was a farmer who relied on subsides and producing high quality food I’d be afraid very afraid.

  • matt so in your world the EU food standards are on a par with those in the rest of the world. I fear your world has little grasp of the reality of food standards.

    some highlights

    The African Union (AU) has formulated a promising project in this regard. It is bringing together willing participants from the different regions to work together toward a common food standards framework. This has encouraged meaningful participation and also helped inspire confidence from other countries. The project is still in the early stages, focusing on minimizing public health risks and getting consumers to trust the local food system.

    Food safety related problems still account for almost 2,000 fatalities on the continent daily. Contamination, diarrhea and foodborne illness outbreaks are still very high. Dangerous food additives still make their way into soft drinks and snacks without any warnings on the food labels. However, with governments giving higher priority to these issues and literacy levels increasing, the continent’s food safety standards are on the correct trajectory….

    The US food standards are not as strict as the EU’s. Certain food additives are banned in the EU because of their effect on consumers are accepted in the US. Moreover, there are pesticides and herbicides that are not allowed in Europe but are vastly used in the US. What marks the difference between these two markets is the EU’s precautionary principle.

    This principle requires that in the absence of scientific clarity, substances that pose any risk level are better off prohibited. On the other hand, the US requires demonstrable proof of risk before any product is prohibited from the market. This implies that food quality in Europe vs. America is not necessarily different. But the authorities’ approach is what sets the two markets apart. While consumer demands and regulations in other countries are the major driving forces in the US market, the EU’s authorities are more involved in the assessment and regulation processes in their region.

  • Frankie.

    If oranges are so terrible from south Africa, why does the EU allow us to import any at all?? this is not about standards, it is about quotas and protectionism, surely u can see that.
    ” Contamination, diarrhea and foodborne illness outbreaks are still very high. ”
    And the same is true of this country, do you have any idea how many chickens are contaminated with campalabacta? Its just our NHS is better at treating people who get ill.

    You think we have good animal welfare in this country, that is crock, we are into intensive farming on an industrial scale, read the article I linked to and others, we are no better than any other country, we just like to pretend we are under the banner of the EU, because that makes everything alright and we should just trade amongst ourselves, its a racket

  • Matt,
    I get you want to retreat from the EU but what I don’t understand is what do you want to replace it with? I know many Brexiteers have their own preferred solution, being a rule taker like Norway or don’t worry nothing will change but what is yours? You can dislike something but if you don’t have something better what good is throwing away what you have. For many Brexiteers their approach seems to be we don’t like the house we live in let’s knock it down but when asked what they will replace it with they can’t agree if it should be a cottage, a villa, a flat, a tent and in the mean time well the hole we are in will have to do.

  • Roger Roberts 30th May '18 - 10:13pm

    “Across the UK £3.95 billion is provided a year under the Common Agricultural Policy. Of this, around 93% is funded from the EU, with around 7% being national funding under rural development programmes”.

    So 93% is from Europe. If Brexit goes through, it could well devastate the Welsh agricultural industry.

  • @frankie

    I dont understand why you would not address any of the points that I made and instead turn it around to ask me what it is that I want from leaving the EU. I don’t mind telling you what my personal choice would be, but it would be courteous to acknowledge the points and questions that I raised 🙂

    I personally would like to see us completely out of the EU, I dont want to see us part of a EFTA as that would mean continuing freedom of movement.

    I would like to see the uk strike a Free Trade Agreement with the EU, which includes services ( just because it has not been done before does not mean it is impossible) All FTA are bespoke. Are you seriously telling me the Canada Free Trade agreement has reached the ceiling and can never be improved upon? if that were the case then we are better going it alone anyway because the FTA that the EU has negotiated in the past with other countries have never played to the UK’s strengths, and if the ceiling has already been reached, why is it taking so long to strike new trade agreements with other countries??

    I am happy for the UK to resort to WTO rules if no deal can be reached.

    I believe outside the confines of the EU, prices will come down in the supermarkets, it will put more money into the hands of the consumer, especially those at the lower end of the income scale, which in turn gives people more money to spend on local economies.

    The EU global share of the world GDP is ever shrinking, the EU’s answer to that is ever closer protectionist policies amongst member states and pushing up prices for the consumer. The sooner we are out of this racket, the better, as far as I am concerned

  • matt,

    Thank you for your reply. It is always nice to be able to work out which particular strand of Brexit you belong to. I now know you don’t belong to “the frankly I havn’t got a clue” camp, neither are you a “Nothing will change member”, or a “lets be Norway or Switzerland (delete as appropriate)” zealot, you a a “cake an eat” believer. In your case you seem to believe that you can have the existing cake of “Free Trade Agreement with the EU, which includes services” and have the additional cake of new better trade deals and cheaper food. Now nothing I have seen suggests the new cake is available and plenty has been said too suggest the old cake will be withdrawn; I fear we are about to become a cakeless society at which point what are you going to do to maintain your beliefs, blame the EU?

  • @frankie

    No, I would not call myself a “have my cake and eat it guy”
    Yes I believe there is a FTA agreement to be had out there, that could include some services, as I said, all FTA are bespoke, no 2 are the same, and if the EU has already reached it’s ceiling on FTA then what is the point??? Surely FTA should be improved upon, not remain stagnant???

    I believe there is scope for a FTA to be beneficial to both parties, it is just as much in Europes interest for there to be an agreement as it is with ours.
    I a not suggesting for one moment that everything will remain EXACTLY the same, I am not saying that a FTA will give us exactly the same access as we do now.
    There will inevitably be trade offs and exclusions, I am sure we will even continue to pay into some schemes in order to maintain access and work together on joint projects.
    What I have been very clear on is, that I am more than happy for us to resort to WTO rules should a no deal happen, or the deal is that bad it is not in the UK interests. That does not make me a have your cake and eat it guy as I am quite prepared to tell the others to stick their cake where the sun don’t shine 😉

    I think we all know though, that there will be some sort of deal. Germany is only in the position it is in because of it trades surplus.
    Hungry, Poland and the Visegard are only interested in the EU whilst they remain net benefeciaries
    There will be pressures from all angles for the EU to strike a trade deal with the UK.
    Hungry and Poland are uncontrollable now and a thorn in the EU project, you wait to see what would happen if they were told they had to contribute more and take less because of the lack of money from the UK.

  • Matt,
    We haven’t the infrastructure for WTO or any plans to build it. The chant of “they need us more than we need them” doesn’t look to be true either. So far the only party getting it’s way is the EU and they don’t do charity, you only have to look at their approach to Greece and presently Italy to see that. The EU love it or hate it (or have reservations about it, but come down on the side of it’s the best of a bad bunch in this in perfect world) has won every argument so far, and I can’t see that winning streak ending; not even with the wail of “they need our money” being shouted at them.

  • Peter Martin 31st May '18 - 4:37pm

    @ Tahir,

    “we should not compromise on our high standards for animal welfare,”

    Please spare us this nonsense!

    I doubt the poor goose in the photo of this article is particular impressed by the standards set by his French force feeder!

    We can have the food and farming standards after Brexit that we choose to have.

  • Tahir Maher Tahir Maher 31st May '18 - 4:57pm

    Peter as a vegetarian I wish we wouldn’t be eating animals but I do care about food (of whatever description) to account to some standard. There have been many recorded cases where unscrupulous suppliers have sold on food products that have resulted in serious health issues for consumers.
    So I don’t really understand your lackadaisical comment!

  • It’s often claimed one of the advantages of leaving the EU will be cheaper food imported from low-cost producers outside Europe. Well yes, but there are problems …

    In practice, open access to the UK market will certainly be near the top of US demands as the farming lobby is immensely strong over there, especially in Republican-voting states and Washington DC.

    The snag is that the access demanded will be for food produced to US standards, exemplified by ‘chlorine chicken’ but including many other things well below even the EU’s rather iffy standards. Contrary to what some appear to believe FTAs are not really ‘free’ at all, more an exercise in bullying so it will be a case of take it or leave it. The US will not meet us halfway – we will find that we have put ourselves in the position of rule takers.

    And that means that the EU will most definitely close its markets to UK suppliers of anything containing chicken (not just chicken as such) that might ultimately derive from the US and similarly for other farm produce and derivative products.

    Moreover, I doubt that consumers will see much benefit even if wholesale food prices do fall substantially since what we pay for food is the supermarkets’ retail price which has become increasingly detached from their buying prices as they established an effective oligopoly. Aldi and Lidl have gone some small way to force change, but I predict food banks will boom if we go down this road.

    Most farmers voted Leave so the government’s promise of lower agricultural prices amounts to a kick in the teeth, especially since I gather most farmers already make a loss on sales and so only survive because of CAP payments.

  • It’s often claimed one of the advantages of leaving the EU will be cheaper food imported from low-cost producers outside Europe.
    Yes, the brexit “trade deal” focus has always been on the import of consumer products and food. There has been a distinct lack of comment on exports, probably because the Brexit case is not supported by reality: despite being in the EU and thus having to abide by the EU’s trade treaties the UK has been able to grow its non-EU exports to their current levels…

    From my sector (IT) it is increasingly clear that the UK’s ability to export services to the EU post-Brexit is rapidly approaching zero, as the UK government attempts to negotiate the impossible (there is much written on relevant IT websites detailing why T.Mays position is totally daft and will not be acceptable to any reasonable person).

    we will find that we have put ourselves in the position of rule takers
    Yes, to take frankie’s house metaphor, it does seem that many Brexiteers in their haste to “knock the house down” because what is important is that it is knocked down, are overlooking the simple fact that once the house has been knocked down, we are effectively homeless and so will be prostrating ourselves on the doorsteps of others if we want a roof over our head.

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