The newspapers have been filled with talk about chlorine-soaked chicken this week. But whilst the image of a chicken going for a dip in the local pool is pretty humorous, the story is emblematic of serious changes that the British food industry may face post-Brexit, as we aim to maintain quality, value for money and reasonable consumer prices while trying to secure free trade deals with other parts of the world with different priorities.
1) Chlorinated Chicken
The chlorinated chicken furore centres around the commonplace practice of washing chicken carcasses in strongly chlorinated water in the US. The practice is banned by EU standards due to concerns that farmers use the chlorine “washes” as a replacement for systematic sanitation throughout the chicken’s life and death. It’s thought that the chemical baths are used to make up for less than desirable hygiene in farms and abattoirs, and that the EU ‘farm-to-fork’ method of raising chicken is more efficient in protecting public health. The worry is that Britain will sacrifice its high-quality animal welfare and environmental standards on this issue in order to secure a quick and easy trade deal with the US post-Brexit (disputes over such issues have derailed trade deals in the past). We could soon see chlorine-soaked chickens lining our supermarket shelves.
2) Hormone-Fed Beef
Although common in the US, the practice of pumping cattle with hormones to increase growth is banned by the EU. However, Brexit means the UK may choose to allow hormone-fed beef in pursuit of a quick trade deal with the US. The subject of hormone-fed beef has been a bone of contention between the EU and the US for years, and has posed serious problems to trade deals between the two bodies. The US Food and Drug Administration finds that the beef is safe for human consumption, however it has been linked to hormone-dependent cancers such as breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and prostate cancer. Not something we want with our Sunday roast.
Source: The Top 5 of Anything
3) More pesticides?
Under current UK regulations, a pesticide is only authorised if it is certain that it is not detrimental to health. These common-sense regulations were established with the help of, and in-line with, the rest of the EU. However there is a real risk that, on Britain’s withdrawal from the EU, pressure from the agrochemical industry and the National Farmers Union to reduce the ‘red tape’ surrounding pesticides will lead to regulations being watered down. Such groups have previously expressed a wish to adopt much less stringent regulations, more in line with those of the US, whose Environmental Protection Agency authorises numerous chemicals that have been banned by the EU on health and environmental grounds. Relaxing our current guidelines would lead to higher levels of potentially dangerous pesticide residues in our food, as well as threatening pollinator species such as bees, for whom pesticides are highly toxic.
4) Increase in prices due to tariffs
Around 30% of food purchased by UK households is imported, and 70% of these imports come from the EU. This means that changes in the cost of imports from the EU are likely to hit food prices pretty hard. One way that Brexit is likely to increase your weekly food spend is through increased tariffs. The UK currently enjoys tariff-free trade with the EU, however if the UK fails to strike a free trade deal with the bloc and defaults to World Trade Organisation tariff levels, average tariffs of around 22% will be imposed. Tariffs on your food items will increase the cost of importing them and, in turn, the price you’re charged. Dutch tomatoes will be hit with a tariff of 21%, Irish beef with a tariff of 40%, and mozzarella with an eye-watering tariff of 46%.
5) Increase in prices due to depreciation of the pound
Because imports are purchased in foreign currency, the cost of imports is also affected by exchange rates. The depreciation in the value of the pound means that more sterling is required to purchase the same bundle of imported goods. According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, the value of the pound fell by 13% between January 2016 and March 2017 – a fact attributed widely to the EU referendum result. Such depreciation raises the cost of importing food, thereby raising the cost of your supermarket purchases.
6) Increase in prices due to customs checks
Our current membership of the EU eliminates the need for physical customs checks and customs duties at borders across the EU. However, if we leave the Customs Union as part of a hard Brexit deal, trade with the EU will become fraught with frictions, with the whole process being slowed considerably. Guy Platten, Chief Executive of the UK Chamber of Shipping, says that this slowdown would particularly impact the import costs of fresh food products, meaning prices are likely to increase for consumers.
7) Strawberry Shortages?
Around 95% of the 29,000 workers who pick fruit on UK farms come from the EU. This means that without freedom of movement from Europe, the soft fruit industry could face a serious labour shortage. Without enough people to pick them, we face seeing our supermarket shelves devoid of iconic Great British strawberries, with those that do reach the shops potentially costing the consumer up to 50% more.
Source: The Guardian
And finally (and perhaps most importantly for chocoholics):
Brexit could not only affect our chicken, but also our (creme) eggs. Cadbury’s UK head, Glenn Caton, said in March that the company may be forced to employ ‘shrinkflation’ (reducing the size of the products but charging the same prices) if the Brexit deal results in raised production costs. Could Dairy Milk go the way of Toblerone?
Source: The Telegraph
By Ellie Jerome