Another Fine Mess

7 August 2018


Cogito Ergo Non Serviam

Farmers Claim No-Deal Brexit Threatens UK Food Security


The National Farmers' Union has cautioned the Prime Minister and the government that a no-deal Brexit would threaten the food security of Britain. The NFU insists that the government make food security a top priority as the Day of Departure approaches. This directly contradicts new Brexit Secretary Liam Raab's claim that food supplies would be adequate after Brexit. Both sides are exaggerating. Britain won't have to ration food, but the odds on year-round produce will lengthen radically.

Bloomberg points out, "Britain produces just under two-thirds of its own food, according to government figures for 2017, and most of the rest comes from the EU." The simple truth is that the climate of Britain is unsuited for growing foods that flourish elsewhere in Europe, and the trade the EU has fostered has altered British eating habits. Pasta, for instance, was largely unknown in the UK. Indeed, the BBC's famous Spaghetti Harvest April Fool's prank in 1957 played on this unfamiliarity, which some Britons mistook for a real news report.

The South China Morning Post supports this saying, "Food security in Britain is in long-term decline, with the country producing 60 per cent of what it needs to feed itself, compared with 74 per cent 30 years ago, according to figures from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra)." It is cheaper to grow some foods in Italy, Greece or Iberia and ship it to Britain than it is to grow the stiff in the UK. So, the food is produced elsewhere.

The SCMP adds, "Defra statistics showed the next most vulnerable food category after fruit is fresh vegetables, with 57 per cent of UK requirements produced in Britain, followed by pork at 61 per cent and then potatoes, of which 25 per cent are imported. Britain exports more milk and cream products than it produces, and imports almost three times as much cheese as it exports, almost twice as many eggs and almost 20 times as many fresh vegetables, according to HMRC statistics for 2017."

With a no-deal Brexit, a British departure from the EU without addressing how goods will move between the two afterward, Britain will have to pay higher prices for its imported food. Economics teaches that consumers will begin switching to other products, substituting where they can, and paying more or doing without when they can't. Higher prices will encourage farmers to enter markets, and all will be well. The problem is that farming takes time, and the market can't work to solve the problems Brexit creates overnight.

In fact, if Britain simply began consuming food only produced in Britain beginning on January 1, 2019, the country would run out of food on August 7, 2019. Clearly, that isn't going to happen, but it is illustrative of the problem Brexit creates. In fact, given the exceedingly hot summer, it is possible that some crops will disappoint at harvest time, making the problem of British withdrawal worse.

The government has floated the idea of stockpiling food, and that is plain ridiculous. The most vulnerable foodstuffs are fresh produce, which by its nature one cannot stockpile. The good news is that the trial balloon burst almost immediately. The UK British Retail Consortium said the "stockpiling of food is not a practical response to a no-deal on Brexit and industry has not been approached by government to begin planning for this."

The key is to create an alternative to the Common Agricultural Policy of the EU. If Britain's farmers are taken out of that system, another system becomes necessary. The Tory minority government does not seem to have a clue what to do about this (or much else).

© Copyright 2018 by The Kensington Review, Jeff Myhre, PhD, Editor. No part of this publication may be reproduced without written consent. Produced using Ubuntu Linux.

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