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Sleepwalking to Brexit food chaos: consumers kept in dark about 'looming crisis'

Brexit poses a real threat to food security in the UK, warn academics (Alex Segre/Getty Images)

Ministers are almost “sleepwalking” into a Brexit food disaster where prices soar, supplies dwindle and standards slide, academics warn.

Consumers have been kept in the dark about the “enormous” implications on food prices and availability after Brexit.

Shoppers could be looking at paying more than a fifth more for certain imported goods while stocks could swiftly run down without a proper signed and sealed deal in place.

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A report by leading food policy specialists professor Erik Millstone (University of Sussex), Tim Lang (City, University of London) and Terry Marsden (Cardiff University), concludes that leaving the European Union poses serious risks to consumer interests, public health, businesses and workers in the food sector.

The authors claim that this is because there is no government vision for UK food or agriculture, yet prices, quality, supply and the environment will all be adversely affected even with a ‘soft’ Brexit.

“UK food security and sustainability are now at stake,” said Prof Lang.

“A food system which has an estimated three to five days of stocks cannot just walk away from the EU, which provides us with 31% of our food. Anyone who thinks that this will be simple is ill-informed.”

His colleague, Prof Millstone, added: “We are surprised at the failure of the government to address a huge set of issues related to food and agriculture. They give the impression of sort of sleepwalking into this.”

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The report draws on more than 200 sources, including many interviews with senior figures across the food chain, as well as official, industry and scientific documents and statistics.

Prof Millstone said: “Not only have ministers yet to develop a strategy or make decisions, they have not even grasped the issues about which urgent decisions are needed. Unless things change rapidly, and in line with our recommendations, the UK will not only have policy chaos, the food system itself will become increasingly chaotic.”

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Prof Lang added that before the outbreak of World War II, the UK had made emergency plans on food.

Today, little if any planning appears to have been done, he said, despite “solid evidence about vulnerabilities ranging from diet-related ill-health to ecosystems stress”.

The “sketchily flagged” new Agriculture Act and Fisheries Act in the Queen’s Speech barely scratched the surface, he said.

“With the Brexit deadline in 20 months, this is a serious policy failure on an unprecedented scale. Anyone would think they want a drop into the World Trade Organisation abyss,” he warned.