A no-deal Brexit risks creating a ‘dangerous two-tier food system’ which divides the rich and the poor, according to a new report from a leading think-tank.
The ResPublica poultry paper warned less well-off shoppers would be forced to buy chicken produced to lower standards if the UK failed to reach a deal with the EU or unilaterally dropped tariffs for trade partners with inferior production methods.
A significant drop in the number of EU employees in the UK poultry sector was also highlighted as a potential problem, with labour costs estimated to rise by up to half if EU workers were no longer able to be sourced.
The think-tank claimed the Government had done little to prepare the UK’s £7.2 billion poultry industry for Brexit, and said it hoped its report would act as a ‘wakeup call’ for Ministers.
Philip Blond, ResPublica’s director, said: “If the Government is serious about making Brexit work, then it is essential the UK finds a workable deal with our EU partners.
“If that fails, 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.”
Joe Cowen, who co-authored the report, suggested lower-income shoppers would only be able to afford chicken from countries such as Thailand and Brazil in a no-deal scenario.
“Antibiotic use is endemic in Thailand, while Brazil, another major exporter of chicken, has significantly lower standards than the UK,” he said.
“Recently we saw 20 factories shut down overnight due to poor practices. Crashing out of the EU without a deal means we would lose much of the EU external infrastructure which allows us to monitor and inspect the food we eat and how it is prepared.
“While it is possible to construct our own regulatory system, given the glacial pace of the Government around all elements of Brexit, it seems unlikely this would happen before we are due to leave next March, exposing consumers to food produced to lower standards.”