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What will happen to the UK’s poultry meat sector after Brexit? Will producers and consumers alike be willing to pay potentially higher prices? Or will they be happy to compromise our high standards of production, after the UK leaves the regulatory safety net of the EU? Unless the Government is made aware of the key challenges and options available to it, the UK is at risk of undermining its food security.
Our report ‘Coming Home to Roost: The Poultry Meat Industry after Brexit’ aims to address these issues by identifying the main economic, societal and environmental risks to the poultry sector across a variety of potential Brexit scenarios.
We argue that a ‘no deal’ scenario represents the worst-case outcome for the British poultry meat industry. The sector is vulnerable to rising labour and trade friction costs, lower standard imported produce, and potential environmental degradation should we leave the EU without a deal. It raises the risk of eating chicken produced to lower standards, imperilling public health and compromising consumer values. It also risks raising the price of poultry, amplifying societal inequalities and creating a two-tier food system in Britain.
This report provides a series of safeguards to offset these risks. Brexit must be used as an opportunity to re-focus our attention on British values, to state boldly that prioritising high standard, affordable and sustainable British produce, for all, is at the top of our agenda. We want the Government to adopt policies that drive productivity and job growth; protect environmental sustainability; and strengthen our food security in a post-Brexit Britain.
Rt Hon Michael Gove MP, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, said:
“I thank ResPublica for their comprehensive report, “Coming home to roost”, which raises important issues to be considered as we leave the EU. Our poultry meat industry is hugely important and we are determined to get the best possible deal for the sector in the ongoing Brexit negotiations. I have been very clear that Brexit will not lead to a lowering of our high food, animal welfare and environmental standards. This will remain at the heart of our approach as we negotiate both with the EU and with new trading partners around the world.”
Phillip Blond, Director of ResPublica, said:
“Regardless of the merits, or otherwise of leaving the EU, this report exposes the risks should the Government fail to secure a good deal. As part of this process they must work closely with an industry that employs nearly 87,700 people and whose products can be found in the majority of our homes and restaurants.
Despite considerable rhetoric the country seems to be marching towards a no deal Brexit, without even the most basic contingencies in place to ensure certainty of supply on the most basic of items such as chicken.
If the Government is serious about making Brexit work, then it is essential that the UK finds a workable trade deal with our EU partners. If it fails then we risk creating a dangerous two tier system, where the rich will be able to afford the increased cost of production necessary to maintain the highest standard, while those on low incomes will have little choice, but to accept poultry with inferior standards, such as chlorinated or from countries where the use of antibiotics is unregulated and unmonitored.”
British Poultry Council, Chief Executive, Richard Griffiths said:
“Food is a special case, it should be treated as a national security issue, and be protected as such. Government must ensure that British food, and the quality it represents, stays affordable and available for all. If we cannot support our own production, then there will emerge a two-tier food system with the average citizen forced to rely on lower standard imports.
As the UK’s largest livestock sector, we are keen to work together with Government to help solve the conundrum of frictionless trade with Europe, be that on regulatory alignment, the use of technology to facilitate crossing of borders, or the future of where labour is going to come from.
We are calling on the Government to develop a robust transition plan to ensure we have access to the workers we need and to avoid any disruption in the smooth movement of perishable products across the EU.”
Joe Cowen Policy & Research Advisor, ResPublica and Report Author, said:
“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.
While its possible to construct our own regulatory system, given the glacial pace of the Government around all elements of Brexit, it seems unlikely that this would happen before we are due to leave next March, exposing consumers to food produced to lower standards.”
Maintaining health and welfare standards & prioritising the need for strong regulators. The Government must work with policymakers to create a ‘clause’ that ensures all future imports meet UK standards. This clause must then be inserted into all and any future trade negotiations. The Government must also commit to a ‘quality advancement principle’, which lays out the Government’s commitment to pursue higher standards post-Brexit, and we recommend that regulators are given stronger powers to monitor and maintain such high production standards.
Increasing productivity, innovation and investment through fiscal enticements. The Government should provide tax incentives for investment in new infrastructure, ‘green technologies’ and R&D in the sector, to increase output and create a more flexible and resilient food system. For example, reintroducing the Agricultural Buildings Allowance.
Securing access to high-quality labour by introducing a flexible visa system. Given that 60% of the poultry sector’s workforce is from Europe, and that Brexit could drive up the costs of labour by 50%, maintaining free-flowing access to migrant labour is vital to the competitiveness and sustainability of the industry. We call on the Government to provide immediate clarity on its proposed migration policy. We also recommend developing a visa system that allows migrant labour to enter the UK to do jobs that British labour does not presently have the capacity or inclination to take on.
Prioritising British food through social value in public procurement. To ensure future food policy meets British values, the Government should pledge to source high standard British chicken for our schools and hospitals. At present, the majority of chicken procured by the public sector is processed chicken from non-EU states because of its reduced cost. If we leave the EU’s regulatory protection, we risk exposing our young and elderly population to the creation of a two-tier food system. To prevent this, we must shift the focus from providing food in schools and hospitals based on cost, to sourcing it because we value the health and safety of our citizens.
Educating consumers to be sustainable and use the whole bird. To improve the sustainability of UK poultry meat, we need to improve the domestic carcass balance. This would reduce the impacts of the potential surplus of dark chicken meat that would be created in a ‘no deal’ Brexit, when it becomes uncompetitive with the EU. We recommend an industry led ‘sustainable consumption’ campaign to educate consumers about the benefits of eating dark poultry meat for the environment, the economy and Britain’s food security by providing recipes to integrate such meals into British culinary culture.
Joe joined ResPublica in January 2018, providing research and consultancy on our technology, higher education and international trade projects. Joe joined the team after completing his masters in International Relations at the University of Melbourne and King’s College London. Joe...
Mark is an experienced policy and research strategist with over 20 years working in partnership with businesses, public bodies, cities and counties to develop successful place-making strategies. Mark has contributed widely to research and policy developments in the UK with...
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