Farmers Say Brexit Will Drive Up British Food Prices

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By Gillie Houston Posted June 27, 2016

The U.K. depends on imports for approximately a quarter of its food.

Since the United Kingdom's vote late last week to part ways with the European Union, British politicians, businesses, and citizens have been coming to terms with how the "Brexit" will affect the country as a whole. In the days following the vote, the British pound's valuation has hit a 31-year low and European stocks have fallen as uncertainty over the future of the U.K.'s economy has reached a frenzy. And when it comes to this uncertainty, the food sector hasn't been immune.

According to the National Farmers Union, the Brexit referendum is going to raise food prices across the country. As The Guardian reports, NFU president Meurig Raymond warned about the economic implications of the vote, which he calls a "political car crash."

Because the U.K. depends on imports for approximately a quarter of its food—and on the rest of Europe as a crucial export partner—exiting the Union will drive food prices up, according to Raymond. "Sadly, we only produce 60 percent of the food we consume," he says. "We've seen our self-sufficiency fall dramatically, so we are very dependent on imported food."

Due to the current weakness of the pound, the cost of imported food could potentially rise and the certainty of imported goods might come into question. Raymond cautions that food sources "could easily be held to ransom by other parts of the world if there is a climatic disaster or if currency is weak."

Another concern for British farmers is the loss of the Union's subsidized financial support. Currently, the E.U. provides between 2.4 and 3 billion pounds in subsidies to British farmers every year to support their industry. In 2014, 55 percent of U.K. farmers' salaries came from E.U. funds, says Raymond, who has called for an emergency meeting of his organization on July 1 to grapple with the aftermath of the vote.

Minette Batters, the deputy president of the Farmers Union told the Daily Mail that "prices will have to go up to ensure farms stay in profit. Many are already being paid below the cost of production prices and that is not sustainable." Batters says fruit and vegetables in particular will see prices soar.

However, as one Forbes contributor argues, the NFU's panic might be somewhat premature, due to the complexities of the economic situation. According to the writer, the elimination of the E.U.'s tariff barriers on agricultural imports to the U.K. will actually benefit the economy. "Being outside the E.U. allows us to lower said barriers and this will of course make food cheaper," he says.

But the Farmers Union is holding its ground, warning British citizens that future trips to the grocery store and farmers market will have a larger impact on their wallets than ever before.

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