The UK food industry needs to work closely with supermarkets and retailers in order to ensure British goods remain affordable as the country faces the prospect of a no-deal Brexit, according to food safety certification provider Lloyd’s Register.

Earlier this month, Tesco confirmed it has started to stockpile certain items in preparation of a no-deal Brexit, while some reports suggest that food prices could rise by as much as 5% in January.

Lloyd’s Register’s global head of agriculture, Stephen Sanderson, said: “Delays and import charges will inevitably increase the cost to farmers, meaning the industry will have to recuperate this from elsewhere. While the Government has outlined plans to create a long-term roadmap towards a sustainable farming future, the short-term fallout of a no-deal Brexit could see consumers turn their back on UK produce in the event of price increases.”

In a survey of 1,000 UK consumers by Lloyd’s Register, cost was identified as the single biggest incentive behind purchasing decisions. The same report also identified the desire for more ethical and sustainable foods.

“Retailers have an important role here to ensure they are actively sourcing and promoting British food and standards, as we await subsidisation support from the Government.”

However, Sanderson explained that this may not be available in the very near future: “As we face the very real prospect of entering into another period of austerity in this post-Covid era, UK consumers are facing a real ethical dilemma.

“Consumers are increasingly aware of the methods in which food is grown, but they may no longer be able to afford ethical, sustainably produced home-grown food, or food that has been produced using the highest standards in the UK, especially if prices rise as we are being led to believe. The biggest concern in the food and beverage industry is the detrimental impact the UK’s trade negotiations could have on food quality.”

In October, the House of Commons voted against amendments to the Agriculture Bill, which sought to ensure that imported foodstuffs met equivalent benchmarks to those followed by UK producers. According to Sanderson, this could impact consumer decision-making: “We could get to a stage where the only products consumers can afford or are willing to pay for are cheaper imports with substandard labelling, which could undermine the advancements we’ve taken in the UK to lead on quality.

“UK agriculture is in a really fragile position where we could see food quality standards slip. Retailers have an important role here to ensure they are actively sourcing and promoting British food and standards, as we await subsidisation support from the Government. Without this support, we could face the prospect of consumers priced out from buying British foods, which are manufactured to lower standards.”

Government assurances

However back in October farming minister, Victoria Prentis, said the Government was “absolutely committed to high standards.” She also added that laws were already in place to safeguard British standards and these were “of more use than warm words.” Government had also said that EU rules which ban the importing of chlorine-washed chicken and other products, such as hormone-treated beef, will be written into UK law after the post-Brexit transition period ends on 31st December.