No-deal Brexit will force poorer people to eat low-quality foreign meat, ministers warned

Study warns of 'two-tier food system' – where only the wealthy can afford 'fresh British chicken'

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Thursday 06 September 2018 15:44
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What does a no-deal Brexit mean?

Poorer people will be forced to eat low-quality foreign meat if the UK crashes out of the EU because of soaring domestic prices, ministers have been warned.

A new study warns of a “two-tier food system” after a no-deal Brexit – where only the wealthy are able to afford “fresh British chicken”.

A no-deal “Fortress UK” departure from the EU would see labour and wage costs soar by up to 50 per cent and “also threatens the values which UK consumers hold”, it concludes.

Fears have repeatedly been raised about chlorine washed chicken from the US, a practice banned by the EU in 1997 – and are echoed in the report by the ResPublica think tank.

But Joe Cowen, the report’s author, added: “Antibiotic use is endemic in Thailand, while Brazil, another major exporter of chicken, has significantly lower standard than the UK. Recently we saw 20 factories shut down over night, due to poor practices.

“Crashing out of the EU without a deal, means we would lose much of the EU external infrastructure that allows us to monitor and inspect the food we eat and how it is prepared.”

Taxpayers will have to foot some of the bill for stockpiling medicines in case of no deal Brexit, says Matt Hancock

Meanwhile, the “disruption” from a no-deal Brexit would force farmers to pass on significantly higher production costs to shoppers, the report warned.

“Lower-income consumers may be left unable to afford fresh British chicken, instead having to rely on cheaper, lower standard meat imports from countries outside the EU,” it said.

“This could create a two-tier food system, where only the wealthy can afford to eat fresh home-reared chicken.”

It comes after Dominic Raab admitted in July the government must ensure "there is adequate food supply" in the event Britain and the EU fail to agree a deal.

The Brexit secretary confirmed the government was making extraordinary plans to stockpile food in case the negotiations fail. He told MPs the task would be overseen by industry, rather than Whitehall.

The government’s own figures show that 30 per cent of food imports came from the EU in 2016. The next highest figure is 5 per cent – from Africa – with 49 per cent produced domestically, in the UK.

The ResPublica report pointed out that, although the UK is the fourth-largest poultry meat producer in the EU, being 60 per cent self-sufficient, that statistic hid the looming problem.

British meat-eaters prefer chicken breasts, which meant UK producers sought to export the 75 per cent of the bird that is left over, including dark cuts like wings, legs and thighs.

“Approximately 70 per cent of our dark meat exports are to the EU and the majority of the poultry meat that is imported into the UK comes from the European Union,” it said.

The warning over meat prices came the same day the health secretary admitted taxpayers will have to foot the bill for stockpiling NHS medicines in preparation for a no-deal Brexit.

Matt Hancock revealed he was “talking to the pharmaceutical industry about what extra costs the government should cover” for the task of building up supplies.

He also said he was planning to “switch supply from land to air” for short-life medicines – although that would appear to depend on a scrambled aviation agreement with the EU.

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