‘Brexit could cause disruption to food supply’

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Northern Ireland’s future food supply could be at risk of serious disruption because the UK Government is neglecting the issue in Brexit negotiations, according to a new report.

Experts from the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH) and City, University of London warn there has been no planning for how food trade will fit into any changes to the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

Published by the Food Research Collaboration and the CIEH, the report shows why a “frictionless” border is vital to the high-volume, economically and nutritionally important food trade into, out of and through Northern Ireland.

According to the report, any future deal which requires border checks and infrastructure raises serious food safety, standards, crime and fraud risks, according to the report. New arrangements could increase food prices, reduce access to healthy food, cause transport delays and harm agri-food businesses.

The report sets out the only four ways in which either the current arrangements can be guaranteed or any future border can be truly “frictionless”. These include: the UK staying in the Customs Union and the Single Market or the securing of a mutually agreed future customs arrangement between UK and EU.

Other options include the whole of the UK committing to future regulatory alignment; or the development of a set of unique arrangements for Northern Ireland.

The authors urge the UK Government to publish plans for what “food Brexit” will look like for Northern Ireland, and call for the UK, the EU and the Republic of Ireland to come together to overcome the issues.

“Prime Minister Theresa May’s commitment to a ‘frictionless border’ cannot be fudged over food,” said report co-author Professor Tim Lang, of the Centre for Food Policy at City, University of London.

“The Northern Ireland food system urgently needs some clear decisions to be taken by all sides in respect of ‘food Brexit’. This important issue is not, at present, receiving the attention that it deserves, and this failure of food governance should not be allowed to continue.”

The report also reviews the available data on food trade and the flow of food in and out of Northern Ireland, and considers how consumers and businesses will be affected by Brexit.

The authors argue that food is central to the economy of Northern Ireland, and the continuing supply of safe, high-quality, healthy food is currently dependent on the absence of border controls between Northern Ireland, EU member state the Republic of Ireland, Great Britain and the rest of the EU.