The UK faces serious health implications if the government fails to agree a Brexit deal, finds a report that says of 35 portions of fruit and vegetables, a figure relating to the five-a-day recommendation for individuals, just one “portion” is grown in the UK and picked by British or non-EU workers.
The report, to mark the launch of a new RSA commission examining the impact of Brexit on food and farming, found that the five-a-day health target – which adds up to the 35 portions of fruit and vegetables a week – was overwhelmingly met by food grown in the EU or harvested by EU workers in the UK.
Sue Pritchard, director of the RSA Food, Farming and Countryside Commission, said Brexit offered a great opportunity to reshape farming and food, but warned that no deal over the exit from the union would have a dramatic and immediate effect.
“What would be available on the shelves would change dramatically. There will be delays at ports and all along the food supply system – the impact will be felt very, very quickly,” she said.
The study found that of the average 28 portions consumed by Britons of the recommended weekly intake of 35 portions of fruit and vegetables, the equivalent of 11 portions came from the EU, seven from the rest of the world and nine arose from the UK and were harvested by workers from other EU countries. The equivalent of just one portion was grown in the UK and harvested by British or non-EU workers.
Pritchard added: “If there is no deal the system is very fragile and the impact in the UK food supply is likely to be dramatic.”
The majority of farmers backed Brexit, but the National Farmers’ Union has since suggested that crops will “rot in the fields” and that Britain will be unable to produce the food if the government cannot secure a deal that allows tens of thousands of EU workers to continue to work on UK farms.
The government has been criticised for failing to make any meaningful progress in the Brexit negotiations and key figures, including the prime minister, have argued that a no deal would be better than a bad deal.
The commission, which will be officially launched on Wednesday, aims to explore what will happen to food and farming after Brexit and how the UK might then improve public health, sustainability and the rural environment.
It says that since the UK joined the European Economic Community, in 1973, the amount people have spent on food has decreased as a proportion of their weekly household budget, from 31% to 17%.
Poor diets have also become more common as a cause of ill health, with the latest estimates putting the cost of obesity at £16bn a year.
Sir Ian Cheshire, chair of the RSA commission, said: “The role of this commission is to learn what other people want, as well as the established experts, what’s working in the communities around the country, to come up with some creative answers and find a way through.”
Pritchard said that although less than a fifth of people in the UK lived in rural areas, everyone relied on the countryside for “food, clean water and more”. She added: “The countryside and rural scenery is the top feature that people say makes them proud of their country.”
She said that though Brexit would pose a serious challenge to the UK’s food and farming, it also presented a once-in-a-generation opportunity. “It is forcing us to address many systemic failings that we have ignored for too long and if we can get this right we can create a better, more sustainable, healthier future.”
Most of UK’s fruit and veg is from other EU nations ‘so Brexit impact may be dramatic’ – The Guardian