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UK study shows 84 percent of consumers want British production standards for all imports post Brexit

ComRes surveyed the public in September and found 84 percent support the view that imports should match British standards as Brexit threatens to open the door to imports from potentially de-regulated markets across the globe.

28 October 2019, at 10:32am

The government should ensure that all imported food meets the same high animal welfare and environmental standards in place on British farms, says a new report from the British Guild of Agricultural Journalists.

The study found that just 16 percent of people would buy food they know is produced to lower animal welfare standards if it was cheaper than food produced to a high standard.

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BGAJ President, Baroness Rosie Boycott

BGAJ President Baroness Rosie Boycott said: “The results of this study are a stark reminder to government that the public values the high standards of British farming.

“There will always be countries able to produce cheaper food than Britain but it always comes at a cost. It could be the safety of the food, the farmer, an animal or the environment.

“With Brexit on the horizon we’re on the brink of potentially seeing lower quality food imports flooding into the country.

“The survey resoundingly shows there’s no appetite for it and it’s the responsibility of government and the entire supply chain to put the safeguards in place to protect both British farmers and the consumer, who’s heads may still be turned by attractive price deals in tough economic conditions, despite how they have responded.”

The results of the study come at a critical time for British agriculture – a sector which stands to lose more than most if the protection provided by the European Union’s single market is not replicated post Brexit.

British standards of food and farming are among the best in the world thanks to decades of progression in the areas of production that matter most to consumers.

Kate Daniels, smallholder, Worcestershire, said: “The willingness to pay more for food produced to higher welfare standards is interesting. It’s a complex issue balancing food budgets and ethics when people have a family to feed. My instinct as founder of an on-farm butchery is people report more willingness to pay than is borne out by their actual behaviour. It’s about finding a level that people find acceptable. I hope that more work can be done in this area, finding points of broad consensus that we can build on as we move forward into a post-Brexit world.”

Many countries which can produce food cheaper than Britain are often using production methods which are illegal here and across Europe; chlorine-washed chicken and hormone-injected beef being two well-reported examples.

Professor of Food Policy at the University of London, Tim Lang, said: “An overwhelming 84 percent want imported food to be of the same standard as home produced food. Gung-ho supporters of yoking the UK to the USA post Brexit should note this.

“The survey suggests the UK public almost certainly recognises the need for UK farming to tick lots of boxes. It’s got the message that farming is multi-functional. But have the politicians?”

Around 62 percent of the survey respondents agree that UK farmers should receive financial support from the taxpayer to ensure a continued supply of food produced by British farmers post-Brexit and just under half (48 percent) of GB adults agree that a climate change levy should be charged on food with a higher carbon footprint, with the proceeds spent on encouraging carbon-friendly farming methods. To add to this, 36 percent do not believe that UK farmers receive a fair share of profit made by retailers on the food that they produce.

Daniel Brown, free range eggs and arable farmer, Suffolk, said: “I am pleased to see how positive the responses were especially on the question of imported foods meeting our standards. But will the public follow through with their good intentions when retailers present food of a lower standard at an attractive price? I think this would need to be enshrined in law rather than relying on the goodwill of retailers and the public.”