A new report published by Green Alliance in partnership with the Food and Nature Task Force with support and advice from our Chief Executive Jonny Hughes has found that using new trade deals after Brexit to lower food prices will undermine the government’s own sustainable farming policy, and expose the UK’s food system to new risks.
Seventy per cent of UK food imports come from the EU. But, if the UK fails to reach a deal with the EU, and instead unilaterally opens the UK to agricultural imports, food imports from countries outside the EU are likely to dramatically rise.
Non-EU imports of chicken could expand by seventeen times, butter by 26 times and cheese by five times. These changes pose significant risks to the UK food system, including lower standards for food, lower standards for UK agriculture, and a bigger environmental footprint for UK food.
The UK government should mitigate these risks by improving information about food origins and production methods, so businesses and consumers can judge the environmental sustainability of all the food they buy, and amending the Trade Bill to guarantee that t high regulatory standards will not be weakened in trade agreements.
Our chief executive Jonny Hughes said: “A greener agriculture policy across all parts of the UK is now within grasp after decades of unsustainable farming practices have caused the depletion of valuable stocks of natural capital. It would be tragically ironic if, in our pursuit of quick trade deals post-Brexit, the UK ended up driving soil, water and habitat degradation in other parts of the world whilst flooding our supermarket shelves with poor quality food products.
“A green farming policy at home with an ‘anything goes’ policy for the rest of the world is unethical. It simply exports our carbon and ecological footprints elsewhere and in doing so exacerbates climate change and biodiversity loss globally. This report makes recommendations for how to avoid this scenario and I sincerely hope UK ministers heed its recommendations.”
Shaun Spiers, executive director of Green Alliance, said:
“Some ministers have given warm words about not trading away our precious natural environment in return for chlorine-washed chicken. But the cold, hard logic of trade negotiations will render these assurances worthless unless they firmly commit to a trade policy that doesn’t threaten UK farming and the environment. The cheap food narrative of Liam Fox and others in government should worry anyone who cares for the British countryside and the quality of the food we eat.”
The Food and Nature Task Force is an initiative convened and chaired by Green Alliance to stimulate collaboration and partnerships along the food supply chain. The task force focuses on reversing declines in the health of the natural environment which threaten the productivity and competitiveness of UK food production, including soil degradation, biodiversity loss and pressure on water resources. Members of the Task Force are Nestlé, Co-op, Sainsbury’s and Tesco, with support and advice from Jonathan Hughes, CEO of Scottish Wildlife Trust and co-founder of the World Forum on Natural Capital, and David Fursdon, chair of Beeswax Dyson Farming.