At the end of this month, Theresa May will invoke Article 50, and officially start the process of Britain leaving the European Union. This is likely to impact many, both on a professional and personal level, whether or not you believe the correct decision was made on 23 June 2016. The media has covered many different aspects of Brexit, however one that hasn’t been mentioned much is food.
The story of the EU and Food
The EU and food have an intricate relationship that start at the beginning of the European Union. Farming was one of the foundations of the common market in the 50s and in the 60s agreements were made to have joint control over food production, thus ensuring that there was enough food for everyone. Some would argue that the European Union had an integral part to play in ending rationing and making food available and affordable for everyone.
Basically since The Second World War the food that has been available throughout the UK has been due to agreements and policies made with the EU, hence why leaving the EU, will inevitably cause a bit of stir in the food world, whether you’re on the production or the consumption side.
Why does it matter?
Food is today something that we rarely consider. We expect to find mangoes, bananas and courgettes all year round in our supermarkets and we’ve lost touch with seasonality and the extensive process that it takes to get our food from farm to fork. However Brexit might make us take a step back as we’re faced with the stark reality that food isn’t necessarily as readily available as it has been over the past decade.
It also matters because we HAVE to think about it. We have to think about the fact that many of the policies, systems and laws might fundamentally change and that our relationship with food might also have to change. Might is the big word in this discussion, because at the time of writing, it is impossible to say what might happen.
The thing that will have (and probably already has had) an impact on people most is the price level. The low pound has meant import prices have risen and therefore the price of many foods has risen. This may not be a long term impact, but it might happen more often as Britain negotiates its position with the EU over the next two years.
25% of people working in the food industry are non-UK. Of course not all of these are from EU countries, however many of them are, and if their free movement is limited then it might be difficult to fill those jobs. Yes, it will mean more jobs for UK nationals, however many of these jobs are seasonal and therefore insecure and time and time again it has been proven that Brits aren’t willing to take them.
“Until now, we’ve had a false sense of security, all kinds of foods having seemingly been readily available to us at all times of the year, and at artificially low prices to boot.” Rachel Cooke, 2017, The Guardian.
So, what’s the plan?
Truthfully, no one really knows. The Government’s White Paper on Brexit sheds little light on it, other than stating a few facts about the food relationship Britain has with the EU, which doesn’t make for comforting reading. The UK is a net importer of agri-food goods. It exported £11bn worth of food in 2015, whilst importing £28bn worth, of which 70% came from the EU. Granted, it does look good for fishing as the EU is much more dependent on UK waters than the UK is on EU waters.
However, that’s also all we know so far. Despite the EU still spending approximate 40% of its budget on the Common Agricultural Policy, there was little mention of food and food production in the Government’s white paper. It covered about half a page in the 70-page long document, with the conclusion being that post-Brexit, Britain will continue to follow current EU regulations and policies, until something else is thought of.
To say that academics on the subject are worried is an understatement. They believe that Britain’s food position outside the EU will be weaker than the politicians realise, all whilst Britain no longer has the imperial trading power it had before the Second World War.
“The historical ability for the UK state to periodically create self-inflicted harm upon it’s own food system seems to be raising its head again as the country triggers Article 50 to remove itself from the European Union.” Terry Marsden & Kevin Morgan, 2017, A Food Dystopia
How does food waste come into this?
Brexit, however messy at the moment, provides us with a fantastic opportunity to reinvent the way we view and use food. By publicly demanding that supermarkets, for example, buy the wonky vegetables and get rid of irrelevant ‘best before’ dates on food. Food waste and the reduction of it also plays an important role, as it will not only save you money whilst food prices are high, but also by potentially reducing the amount of food that needs to be imported, thus reducing the prices again.
The UK wants to design better farming, and that is something the consumer and the farmers should and must get involved with. Instead of throwing one third of the produce away, before it reaches supermarket stores, we can accept the fact that our peppers might not be the size of a baby’s head and that our carrot looks like a pair of legs.
This might seem like a huge task to take on, but every time you go shopping you can take an active role in this reimagination of food and food production, by buying the ‘reduced’ food and the food marketed as ‘near perfect’ or ‘wonky’. As well as being active through your buying, you can also be active on social media by tagging things like #foodwaste, #madwaste, #cookingwithleftovers, and sharing articles, blog posts and images that reflect the ridiculousness that is food waste.
We all have incredible political power and by very simply starting a conversation about food and food waste, we can have an impact. Every time you share something, write something or buy something, you are adding to the conversation and making it something the politicians and leaders will inevitably HAVE to look at. .