The European Parliament and Brexit: what it means for the food sector
18th May 2018 (London, UK)
The European Parliament Liaison Office in London (UK) hosted an expert panel to discuss the impact BREXIT will have on the UK food sector (http://bit.ly/2sTEWAI) and consider the future of the agri-food sector and its relationship with the EU. The panel was composed of experts from across the UK food chain including farmers (Nick van Westenholz, National Farmers’ Union), food manufacturers (Helen Munday, Food Drink Federation), consumer groups (Sue Davies, Which?), academics (Prof. Erik Millstone, Sussex University) and politicians (Julie Girling MEP), and much of the discussion was focussed on trade, food safety and consumers, highlighting the relationships amongst these actors.
Nick van Westenholz explored how boosting UK food production has knock-on effects for the environment and lower food prices jeopardise the financial viability of farming. Sue Davies, Helen Munday, and Erik Millstone all championed the need for the UK to remain part of the Rapid Alert System for Food Fraud and other networks to assure food safety. Currently, it is unclear how much the UK and Europe can diverge from existing food controls given their collective influence globally.
During the questions and answers session, Helen Munday suggested that SMEs might be affected most, because they have fewer staff with expertise in technical and regulatory affairs, meaning understanding and adapting to any changes to legislation will take time and money. Public attitudes to food safety were a prominent theme throughout discussions and Helen suggested that the UK hosts many food sector R&D headquarters because of high levels of public trust in food systems.
Sam Lane, representing EuroFIR AISBL, asked what organisations have been doing to prepare for BREXIT and ensure continued cooperation. All the panellists highlighted existing relationships with EU-wide bodies, COPA-COGECA (joint EU committees of farmers and their cooperatives, www.copa-cogeca.be), BEUC (European Consumer Organisation, www.beuc.eu), and FoodDrinkEurope (represents the European food and drink industry, www.fooddrinkeurope.eu) and the intent to continue to engage with these groups as well as the value these groups place on UK expertise. Indeed, the desire and need for continued dialogue and cooperation across the agrifood sectors after BREXIT was most prevalent message coming out of the event.
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