Coronavirus has made people think about the security of one of the most basic priorities of life: food. At the beginning of the lockdown in March, families were not sure if there would be a steady supply of food available in the supermarkets. Would the food supply chains be able to cope in supplying a nation of 66 million people week after week?
Initially, there was some panic buying, leaving shelves empty, but as supplies kept coming, confidence grew and a more stable situation developed. Now, the problem is more whether many families can afford to buy the food on sale.
As an EU member state, we have not been concerned with food security for many years. The EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) made sure food was available at an affordable price.
Now we have left the EU, food supply may be less reliable, with possible peaks and troughs in supply. We now might need to protect food production in the UK, so that in a crisis we are able to rely on our farmers, which CAP subsidies used to help support.
Critics of the CAP pointed out rich farmers received an unfair share of CAP subsidies. Giant companies like Campina and Nestle have received hundreds of millions of Euros, while small-scale farmers are shut out of European markets. Even our Queen received half a million Euros a year.
Critics also argued EU citizens had to pay up to twice for their food. Were we to trade as a non-EU member, we could get cheap food from the USA, Australia and Canada.
But Europe has the world’s best food and the CAP promotes quality and diversity. Traditional local foods are protected from cheaper imitations of often lower quality. Reforms to the CAP have ensured that Europe is now a world leader in promoting food safety and the development of organic produce.
Given the shock of a pandemic turning our lives upside down:
- Are the food security and higher food standards that the EU offered more important than the British public previously thought?
- Is the pursuit of cheap less healthy food from distant countries a risk?
- Is the protection of farmers - and therefore the food supply to UK citizens - a greater priority than was appreciated during the Brexit debate?
Covid 19 has reminded us of the importance of food security and quality. Already, the Trade and Immigration Bills are making their way through the Parliament. As we closely monitor the outcomes of these debates, the trade negotiations between the UK and USA, and the negotiations between the UK and EU, we must remember the food security and safety we took for granted when an EU member.
We must not accept a hard WTO (or ‘Australia’) Brexit, which will further disrupt the food supply chain and the wider economy. We therefore hope you will support the European Movement’s current campaign to extend the transition period to get the best possible trade, security and other deals with the EU. Please contact your MP, local media and reach out to others on social media.
Richard Newcombe is Chair of London4Europe. The views expressed are his and do not necessarily represent those of London4Europe or any other institution.