Trade groups have backed a report on Brexit from the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) committee that warns of a potentially “significant impact” on UK agriculture and the knock-on impact on consumers.

The Food and Drink Federation (FDF) supported calls for more government clarity, as well as impact assessments from the report, Brexit: Trade in Food​.

“FDF has repeatedly stated that those sectors which form the UK’s £112bn ‘farm-to-fork’ supply chain would be most affected by Brexit, and the conclusions from the latest EFRA committee report affirm this,” ​said Ian Wright, director general of the FDF.

“We welcome the committee’s findings, particularly in relation to the vital need for continued barrier-free and tariff-free trade with the EU27.

Risk to choice

“Our members’ competitiveness relies heavily on frictionless imports and exports of ingredients and finished goods. Lengthy customs procedures and delays at ports and borders would pose a real risk to the choice of food and drink that consumers currently enjoy at all price points.” 

The British Retail Consortium (BRC) also raised fears about the increased prices for consumers.

“If the UK leaves the EU with no trade agreement, the average WTO ​[World Trade Organization] tariff of 22% that would be applied to imports, would increase prices for consumers,”​ said BRC ceo Helen Dickinson.

Given that over two-thirds of our food that is imported comes from the EU to supplement UK production, the scale of this potential impact is clear.

While, NOAH, the animal health organisation, called on the Government for more clarity over the terms of Brexit;

Dawn Howard, NOAH chief executive,  said: “NOAH members help ensure the health of UK’s food producing animals, contributing to excellent welfare standards – part of the success story that is British farming, food production and supply. 

“But as negotiations about leaving the EU continue, uncertainty is affecting business confidence, within our sector and across the whole”.

‘Devastating consequences’

“Contrary to some recent speculation, the report rightly acknowledges that the answer does not lie in unilaterally dropping tariffs to zero, due to the devastating consequences this would have for the UK’s agricultural industry.”

The paper warned many UK farmers could be put out of business if the UK had no trade agreements in place when it officially left the EU. That could render the UK dependent on imported food.

“We would like to see the government offer policies that would stimulate home-grown food production,” ​the report stated.

The committee also raised concerns that the sheep, dairy and cereals sectors, which are particularly dependent on the export market, would be most affected by no trade agreement with the EU.

It stated that if the UK operated under WTO tariffs, this could “possibly”​ lead to higher costs for consumers.

Farming fund

The committee has called for a fund to be set up to help British farming deal with the impact of Brexit.

It also argued that there needed to be a specific impact analysis made for each agricultural sector and called for IT systems and infrastructure that would end delays at borders for perishable goods.

The country should begin to develop relationships at a political level with potential new trading partners and should ensure that any new agreements were not to the detriment of the UK’s high animal welfare, environmental, or food standards, the committee added.

“Sixty percent of the UK’s agricultural exports and 70% of its imports are from the EU,” ​said EFRA committee chair Neil Parish.

“In order to safeguard the livelihoods of UK farmers and guarantee domestic food security post-Brexit, it is vital that the government articulates its vision for protecting both.

“UK agriculture will need to adapt to the changed trading circumstances following Brexit, so the government should consider putting funding in place to enable farmers to do so.”