3. The Realities of Brexit for the UK Food System
EU influence over the UK food system
- Funding: The EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) shapes UK farming practices and landscapes and provides £2.3 billion of subsidies per year. Without this financial support, many UK farms would have been forced to change how – and what – they produce, or else would have faced closure or been driven out of business. Brexit will also leave a hole in the EU budget, which could reduce the overall funding available to member state farmers through the CAP.
- Intra-EU trade: EU countries are responsible for the majority of the demand for UK food, feed and drink exports (60 per cent in 2016), and the UK is similarly dependent on member states for 70 per cent of its imports in these areas (and 30 per cent of total UK food consumption).
- Labour: UK agriculture depends heavily on EU nationals for labour, particularly seasonal migrant labour, which some estimate at 98 per cent of the 75,000 seasonal workers needed each year. A further 116,000 EU nationals worked in the UK food manufacturing sector in 2016, representing a third of all people employed in the sector.
- Regulation: EU legislation and institutions provide a tight framework governing the environmental and safety standards of food produced and consumed in the UK. These regulations cover the safety and quality of food and feed, plant health, animal health and welfare within in the EU as well as import controls on animals and goods entering the EU from third countries.
- Extra-EU trade: The EU has an extensive web of trade agreements from which the UK benefits. In 2016, around 54 per cent of UK exports went to the EU or to countries with which the EU has a full or provisional trade agreement. Today, the UK imports food from 168 countries.