120.Food security is defined by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations as a situation in which “all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life”. A study by the Food Standards Agency across England, Wales and Northern Ireland in 2017 found that 8% of those surveyed were living in households classed as ‘food insecure’ and another 13% lived in households considered to be ‘marginally food secure’.
121.Witnesses raised concerns that Brexit could increase food inequality and threaten food security for those on lower incomes. Professor Tim Benton told us:
“An interesting issue to explore is the risk here of a two-speed Britain … We could have a premium agricultural system that just sells into Borough Market and Waitrose, and then poor people have to eat calorie-rich, nutrient-poor diets based on commodity crops imported from other parts of the world”.
122.Fruit and vegetables could be particularly vulnerable to price rises and lack of availability, because of the UK’s dependence on EU imports: around 40% of vegetables and 37% of fruit sold in the UK come from the EU. For this reason Professor Tim Lang, from the Centre for Food Policy at City University London, described horticulture as “the most fragile of all the industries”. The level of price rises that will follow Brexit will of course depend on the trade agreement that is concluded between the UK and the EU. The highest price rises would likely result from a ‘no deal’ scenario, with all food imports being subjected to tariffs at WTO levels. The Food Foundation stated:
“WTO tariffs being applied to European imports, combined with changes in the value of the pound and increasing labour costs, could raise the price of purchasing enough fruit and veg for a family of four by £159 per year. The impact of this would be felt the most by households in the lowest 10%, for whom almost half (46%) of their entire food budget would be taken up with fruit and veg costs. These price rises would come at a time when fruit and veg consumption is already far below recommended levels”.
123.Ensuring access to fruit and vegetables is one aspect of a broader debate on the UK’s future food policy. Sue Davies from Which?, Professor Tim Lang, Ian Wright from the Food and Drink Federation and Professor Tim Benton all stressed the importance of the Government developing a strategy to address food security in a holistic way. This is needed, they argued, to tackle practical issues such as labour shortages but also address ethical questions that arise in the tension between, for example, ensuring affordable food for all and producing food to high welfare standards and with the lowest possible environmental impact.
124.Sue Davies told us that leaving the Common Agricultural Policy was an opportunity “to reconcile the competing objectives of food policy, whether that is tackling obesity, environmental impact, economic growth, quality, taste or safety”. Professor Benton agreed: “There is not enough joining up … on how we [use our food system] … to make people healthier, make farming better, make soils better, make the environment better and deal with climate change. The challenge is how we join all these things up together.” He continued:
“There is a balance in terms of thinking about how much food we should be growing at home and how much food we should be importing. The more we outsource our trade, the more we rely on a globally stable world to deliver our food security … There is an interesting question here around what the right balance is”.
Sue Davies suggested: “We have an opportunity to think more strategically … and longer term about the different things that we want from a food and farming system, and the different types of incentives we need in order to achieve that”.
125.Professor Tim Lang noted that a 25-year food plan from Government had been expected for some time but never published. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has recently published a consultation on ‘the future for food, farming and the environment in a Green Brexit’, which does include some of the issues raised above (such as animal welfare and skills), but does not set out the comprehensive food policy our witnesses called for. Nor does it consider food security.
126.Professor Benton summarised the position as follows: “We have to have a plan to ensure that, as the world becomes more fragmented and geopolitically unstable, driven by climate change instability, we can feed ourselves in the long term and in a sustainable way. We ought to do it”.
128.Food security is critically important, but agreeing on the best way to provide food security raises tensions between the different priorities we have considered during this inquiry. As the UK prepares to leave the EU, it is unclear whether the Government’s goal is maintaining or even reducing food prices, or maintaining high animal welfare and food safety standards; protecting UK producers, or seeking new trade agreements with other countries.
129.We agree with witnesses to this inquiry that the Government should produce, with some urgency, a comprehensive food strategy for the UK that sets a clear policy direction for ensuring the UK’s food security in a post-Brexit world.
144 Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), World Food Summit Plan of Action (November 1996): [accessed 10 March 2018]
145 Food Standards Agency, The Food & You Survey Wave 4: Executive Summary (2017), p 5: [accessed 22 March 2018]
147 The Food Foundation, Food and the EU referendum: 2016 Policy Briefing (2016), p 3: [accessed 10 March 2018]
149 Written evidence from the Food Foundation ()
150 , , and
156 Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Health and Harmony: the future for food, farming and the environment in a Green Brexit, Cm 9577, February 2018: [accessed 4 April 2018]