Driving agricultural standards higher than they are at present risks dissolving margins even further, a retail expert has claimed.
Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability at the British Retail Consortium, said consumers were not willing to pay any more for their food despite the Government’s drive to raise production standards.
Speaking at a Green Alliance debate on the UK’s priorities for food post-Brexit in London this week, Mr Opie said: “I worry we will set standards for our own farmers higher than the market will reward.
“Farmers will be expected to reach these milestones and consumers will not pay any extra for that food on the shelves, so there is then a problem in the supply chain.
“And retailers cannot [shoulder any additional cost] we are already operating on the tightest margins we have ever been on.”
AHDB chairman and Bedfordshire farmer Peter Kendall used the example of the ‘enormous’ investment in his intensive poultry operation, where he was bound by strict regulation to ensure his birds met strict environmental and welfare standards.
“It means my chicken is more expensive than US chicken,” said Mr Kendall, highlighting the fact his sheds were washed out to cut the need for antibiotics, whereas some US producers ‘may put manure on top of manure and crop on crop and then use a detergent to wash the chicken or use antibiotics’.
“The market dictates what people will pay. We have to make sure that having made investments in UK farming we do not dump on it and undermine it with cheap imports.
“That is what scares me as a farmer.”