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With nearly half its food imported, who will feed Britain after Brexit?

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Organic Tomatoes Produced in Kent
Organic Tomatoes Produced in Kent, UK.

Trump called himself “Mr. Brexit” yesterday. Funny, almost, in light of the reality of how removing E.U. immigrants is going to drastically change how Britain feeds itself. America too if the anti-immigrant brigade ever gets a modicum of power. Have you ever picked vegetables in the hot sun? It’s not work I’d do voluntarily, even if it paid above minimum wage. Trump’s anti-immigrant army will be spluttering in impotent rage if tomatoes were $50/lb, if lettuce was something you only could afford to eat over the holidays, if a hamburger cost $35 even to make it at home with store-bought ingredients. 

But then Trump’s cult has never had the ability to comprehend facts.

Courgetts (or Courgettes)
Courgetts (or Courgettes) (a/k/a Zucchini)

Anyway, back to Britain, where Carla Power writes, in part:

“Brexit” has sown deep uncertainty in Britain’s food system, which for the last 43 years has been entwined with the rest of Europe’s, relying heavily on the EU for everything from pork to peaches to farm subsidies to the labor that picks its tomatoes. Now, the country is going to have to rethink how it feeds itself, from farm to fork.

“Food is the biggest sector of engagement with Europe,” said Timothy Lang, a professor at City University London’s Center for Food Policy. “It’s hundreds of thousands of contracts, all woven into long supply chains.”

Currently, European laws regulate nearly everything that ends up on British plates: how clean a chicken should be before slaughter, how cold to keep frozen cod, who gets to call their biscuits “gluten free.”

Now, Britain will have to decide all that for itself. Some groups already have begun lobbying Prime Minister Theresa May’s new government for regulations to improve animal welfare and protect soils.

But what Britain can’t do is feed itself. The country imports more than $50 billion a year in food, or nearly half of what it eats. That’s more than double what it exports. Most wine and beef come from mainland Europe, as do about 40% of fruit and vegetables.

The future of food in Britain will depend largely on what sort of trade deals the government can strike with the European alliance it is preparing to abandon.

Germany and other European powers have made it clear that they will not grant Britain the benefits of EU membership if it leaves and that the country probably will face tariffs on many of its imports.

New tariffs on food would drive up prices and potentially change the nation’s diet.

EU membership has brought them a flexible, energetic and mobile labor force of Romanians, Bulgarians and other Eastern Europeans. While EU-born workers from outside Britain make up 6% of the country’s workforce, they account for more than a quarter of employees in the food manufacturing industry — and 95% of crop pickers.

“Every strawberry eaten at Wimbledon was picked by an Eastern European,” said John Hardman of Hops Labour Solutions, an agricultural recruitment firm in Kenilworth. “Every Brussels sprout eaten at Christmas dinner was picked by an Eastern European.”
If Britain stops free movement of EU workers, farmers may struggle to find replacements. Britons themselves don’t seem keen on the low wages and long hours in the orchards and fields.

(click here to continue reading With nearly half its food imported, who will feed Britain after ‘Brexit’? – LA Times.)

Written by Seth Anderson

August 19th, 2016 at 1:15 pm

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