This is the website and blog of Dr John Lever.

Tuesday 15 August 2017

Cheap food, fraud and #brexit

The potential fraud and food safety issues posed by brexit come at a time when our food system already faces major challenges from climate change. Some of the biggest threats come from the UKs love of cheap food.

The 2013 horse meat scandal illustrated the need for better regulation to enable traceability and eliminate fraud when food crosses borders within the global food system. Yet at the Oxford farming conference earlier this year, Conservative Party delegates informed us that there will be less but more coherent food policy regulation in the post-brexit period, and that this will enable better consumer protection. Brexit thus provides an opportunity, it appears, to eliminate food fraud, or at least make it easier to deal with.

But this begs the question of where UK food will be produced in the post-brexit period: will we all consume food produced locally, or at least in the UK? At present this seems unlikely, hence public concern over chlorine washed chickens imported from the US and the dilution of animal welfare standards.

Industry insiders say they aren't loosing any sleep over the potential for a food fraud frenzy in the post-Brexit period, not least because there are many barriers that restrict entry into the food industry, and because there are easier ways to make money. But during a recent enquiry by the House Lords Select Committee on the European Union, Chris Elliot argued that the food sector presents many opportunities for fraud, and that the UK is not immune from the consequences.

There are numerous threats. If prices rise quickly or unexpectedly post-brexit, opportunities for food fraud may increase as producers look to cut corners or substitute cheap ingredients for more expensive ones. New trade relations with the US could increase competition and damage an already shrinking and under threat UK agriculture and farming sector, thus further incentivising fraud. Cutting corners may also increase microbiological hazards as discarded waste re-enters the food system illegally, thus raising concerns over food safety.

The implications of 'A Food Brexit' are vast and little understood. The difficulty of making changes or cutting back quickly without full consideration of the issues at hand increases the potential for food fraud significantly. As the horse meat scandal illustrated only too well, cheap food comes at a high cost.