Britain's Food Industry Reacts to Brexit

© LEON NEAL / AFP / Getty Images

By Gillie Houston Posted June 27, 2016

The E.U. is their primary export market.

Last week's historic decision for the United Kingdom to part ways with the European Union has sent ripples through the economy of Britain and the rest of the world. One of the industries most effected by this decision will be British food producers and distributors, who depend on the rest of the E.U. as their primary export market.

Prior to the country's vote to make a "Brexit"—or British exit—71 percent of members of the U.K.'s Food and Drink Federation opposed a decision to leave the Union. Now, while responses have been mixed, many food industry insiders fear what the separation could mean for their markets. A United Kingdom-based publication, Food Manufacture, rounded up some of the deluge of reponses that began pouring out following the decision.

Patrick Coveney, the CEO of Greencore, an Irish "international convenience foods producer," tweeted that the decision was "Incredibly disappointing but that's democracy," adding that the country needs "calm heads now to steer Britain and EU through very tricky waters."

Food and Drink Federation director general Ian Wright acknowledged that given the large majority of members that wished to remain in the EU, it is inevitable "that the majority of FDF members will regard this as a disappointing result for the food and drink industry." However, Wright vowed the FDF will do its best to help the food and drink industry across Britain "find a way through this very challenging period." These challenges will include navigating the new systems for trade, market access, and regulation that will inevitably be put in place.

Terry Jones, the director general of Britain's National Farmers Union says its his organization's job to "explain to decision makers why farmers must be able to trade with Europe on a level playing field," and "how farmers in the UK will expect access to labour and markets to ensure a successful future for their businesses."

Some have had more positive resonses to the Brexit, including National Skills Academy chair Paul Wilkinson, who says "the result provides a unique opportunity for the food industry to capitalize on the exit." He adds that "a weaker pound will help exports and the excessive red tape of the EU will release real innovation."

And others are simply hoping to get through the drastic transition in one piece. "We will be vigilant to ensure the Brexit negotiations do not harm our exports abroad and the competitive position of beer and pubs in Britain," says British Beer and Pub Association head Brigid Simmonds.

Whichever side of the debate food and drink industry members fall, there's no question that big changes are coming for their businesses, and for all forms of commerce in the U.K. and Europe as a whole.

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