EU Referendum: a Spotlight on Food and Farming

Contributed by Alice Litchfield on 04.05.2016

An Article about EU Referendum: a spotlight on food and farming. Written by Alice Litchfield 

On Tuesday 19th April an afternoon meeting was held to discuss the EU referendum with a spotlight on food and farming. The event was established by The Kindling Trust, a company that works towards social change for an ecologically sustainable society, and the Food Ethics Council to explore the implications of a Brexit (Britain exiting the EU) for the food we eat and the way we produce it. The event had four speakers, each with their own specialist background, to give their views on what the implications would be if Britain left the EU. The event was chaired by Dan Crossley from the Food Ethics Council.

The first speaker was Steve Webster (agricultural economist) who focused on EU legislations relating to different aspects of farming and food production. He believes the legislations provide a necessary baseline standard for countries to follow that are well written and simple to follow. Northern Europe leads the way for animal welfare in the EU and whilst being a part of the EU, pressures can be put on other countries to improve standards but if Britain were to leave their influence would be lost. The Brexit could also have implications for the agricultural trade with increased volatility and those with smaller farms could suffer. This was further developed upon when a member of the audience mentioned his cider business could be in danger of going under as they are protected from tax by EU laws.

The next speaker was Anne Selby from the Lancashire Wildlife Trust. She challenged the question, what had the EU actually done for the environment? The EU had provided funding specifically for the environment, and that if we weren’t in the EU the money would have been spent elsewhere. The EU also put up different legislations including The Birds Directive, European Protected Species and the European Water Framework Directive. Her concluding statement ended with the fact that the EU had developed strong, ambitious, consistent and long-term legislations that safe guard wildlife and if these weren’t in place, Britain would have lost a lot more of its wildlife.

The third speaker was Charlie Clutterbuck, an Associate Lecturer for Manchester Metropolitan University. His speech involved talking about labour and soils, of which he assured the audience they were linked. He argued that much of the EU referendum was driven by the migrant crisis, but in reality this would not change if we were to leave the EU. Many migrants do come over to work in the UK but they work for poor wages doing the jobs UK citizens don’t want. If we left the EU we would still rely on migrant workers but instead it would just be from further afield places. The talk then continued onto soils and the significant soil erosion that is occurring in the East creating carbon loss. Leaving the EU would not raise awareness or management to improve soils so it would allow them to run down and cause significant climate issues.

The final speaker of the afternoon was Pete Ritchie from Nourish Scotland who talked about the lessons learnt from the Scottish referendum. He talked about the issues surrounding the campaign as a whole, as he believes UK citizens have not been given enough time with only two months to decide as opposed to Scotland’s two years.  Furthermore he believes the EU campaign to leave is a lot more active therefore putting them in the spotlight. The EU is also going through rapid transition with immigration, the whole of Europe is in transition and not just Britain but this multicultural Europe is not being reflected in the debate. The Brexit debate is being conducted through out-dated ethnic stereotypes and pre-globalisation identities.

Pete also reflected on farming and how vegetables, fruit and dairy would be affected as EU workers are needed as businesses cannot survive without them. He believes food will suffer as from post-Brexit negotiations the UK will be in a much weaker position as we don’t have trade negotiators. Farms will disappear quicker, less local food will be used and more will be imported from Third countries. We need the tough regulations that the EU has implemented for the good of pollution, soils, workers’ rights, climate change and animal welfare amongst others.

After the main speakers, two further small discussions were had. One lady from the Kindling Trust spoke about TTIP and Trade. It was believed that there is more support to defeat the TTIP movement if we stayed in the EU but if we leave the EU, we can negotiate our own terms of trade with the US which could be detrimental to workers and the environment. The next speech was from Liz O’Neil talking about GM foods. The EU regulations around GM food production is not ideal but far from the worse situations of the UK deals. The UK have full support for GM products and show significant funding for it. Therefore staying in the EU would mean regulations in place protecting GM production. These points were then discussed by the audience and debated along with other points including who would create new legislations? And will consumers have less choice in supermarkets if we leave? One member of the public identified that the UK is strong enough to stand alone and leave the UK and it would be down to members of NGOs, the government and other organisations to influence legislations and create an economy that supports the British people.

The concluding arguments of the afternoon’s debate centred on the idea that the UK food and farming industries would be safer in the EU being protected by legislations. Food security, sovereignty and sustainability all need to stay on the agenda through the EU. The purpose of the afternoon was not to tell people which way to vote but rather to inform people of what they believe the implications could be on food and farming if the UK were to leave the EU.