‘UK cheap food policy ambition will trigger race to the bottom’

The UK must “abandon its ambition” of a cheap food policy which will “ultimately lead” to the destruction of EU and UK farming post-Brexit, the president of the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) has warned.

Speaking today (October 25) at the Beyond Brexit: Farming for our Future event in London, Joe Healy warned of the danger of a “dog’s dinner outcome” to the UK’s looming departure from the EU – cautioning of confusion and trade disruption.

“There is always a concern in the endgame of the withdrawal agreement negotiations, that we will end up with a last-minute fudge that has unintended consequences.

“We must guard against this. The best way to do this is to have an extendable transition phase, or ‘whole-of-UK’ backstop to allow time to negotiate the closest possible future trade arrangements,” he said.

“The two sides must avoid a ‘dog’s dinner’ of an agreement which means different things to different people and results in disputes and running repairs which disrupt trade,” he said.

The event, organised by the National Farmers Union (NFU) in the UK and the presence of farm leaders from Ireland (IFA), France (FNSEA), Germany (DVB), the Netherlands (LTO) and Denmark (Danish Agriculture) is significant in terms of highlighting the potential impacts for the agri-food sector across Europe.

Healy stated that the IFA is “very clear” that farmers’ interests in the EU and the UK lie in keeping full access between the EU and the UK – while maintaining the value of the UK food market.

“We want to see no hard border on the island of Ireland and friction-less trade across the Irish Sea, and for that matter between Dover and Calais.

“For this to happen, the UK must abandon its ambition of a cheap food policy which undercuts European food standards or offers increased imports that would destabilise our food markets and damage all European farmers.

Farm leaders

Healy said it “simply doesn’t add up” for the EU to allow the UK to have privileged access to the European market if it’s going to undermine it.

I believe EU and UK farm leaders have a shared interest in ensuring that the UK, which is an important market for all European farmers, does not pursue policies which will further drive down food prices.

“Importing food and food ingredients from countries with lower production costs and lower standards will undermine the value of the UK food market for EU and UK farmers,” he said.

“If our citizens want to continue to have a safe supply of high-quality traceable food, produced to highest environmental and animal welfare standards, then they will have to pay prices for their food which keeps farmers in business.

“We must send a strong message that a cheap food policy is a race to the bottom which will ultimately lead to the destruction of EU and UK farming and lower-quality food for the consumer,” concluded Healy.