A no-deal Brexit risks creating a dangerous two-tier food system that divides the rich and the poor, a report from UK think tank ResPublica has warned.
The report, Coming Home to Roost: The British Poultry Industry After Brexit, suggested the less well-off would be forced to accept lower standards as in a no-deal scenario as there was a “real danger” of a reduction in food standards and affordability.
It said it may leave consumers unable to afford fresh British chicken, instead having to rely on cheaper, lower standard meat imports with only the wealthy able to afford “home-reared high standard” chicken.
The report, sponsored by the British Poultry Council, identified the main economic, societal and environmental risks to the poultry meat industry in the event of three potential Brexit scenarios:“Evolution” (retaining the status quo), “Trade Liberalisation” (which would see tariffs removed) and “Fortress UK”, where WTO trade tariffs would be imposed on products from the EU.
ResPublica warns that under a “Fortress UK” or ‘no deal’ scenario, labour costs in the sector could rise by up to a half as the industry is heavily reliant on skilled EU workers.
At present, the UK is the fourth largest poultry meat producer in the EU, and according to ResPublica, is about 60% self-sufficient. UK consumers prefer to eat breast meat, rather than dark cuts like wings, legs and thighs, which means that UK producers may have to export surplus dark meat to maximise revenue.
The report says the profitability of the sector therefore revolves around finding a market for 75% of the bird that is left over. Approximately 70% of the UK’s dark meat exports are to the EU, and the majority of the poultry meat that is imported into the UK comes from the European Union. The report said maintaining the future relationship is “key to the sector.”
The report also expressed fears for what would happen to standards should the UK turn to non-EU importers, namely chlorinated chicken from America.
Phillip Blond, director of ResPublica said: “Regardless of the merits, or otherwise of leaving the EU. 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.”
British Poultry Council, chief executive, Richard Griffiths, added: “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.”