European_union_flag-6Confused about what Brexit means for our food system? We’ve compiled reports and responses from food and agriculture experts to give you a summary of the possible scenarios and next steps.

The current situation

  • 27% of the UK’s food is currently sourced from other EU countries. This rises to 40% for fruit and vegetables. Overall the UK is only about 60% food self-sufficient.
  • The UK’s food system currently operates under EU legislation and infrastructure, including the Common Agricultural Policy; the Common Fisheries Policy; shared legislation on food labelling, standards and safety; trade and labour agreements; shared policies on public health, environment, biodiversity, waste, water quality and other areas.
  • Farmers in the UK currently receive around £3bn a year in subsidies from the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy, making up 35-50% of total gross income for farms. An average cereal farm in the UK earns around £100,000, of which £55,000 comes from the EU single farm payment.
  • 60% of our food and drinks exports currently go the EU and are worth £1 billion to our economy.
  • The EU is the world’s largest single market.
  • £60 billion worth of assets in the UK food and drink industry are held by foreign companies. 40% of this is held by EU companies.
  • Trading in the EU, even if not a member, requires common standards on labelling, food safety and animal health and welfare. [i]

What next?


‘Implications of BREXIT for UK Agriculture’, a report from the Yorkshire Agricultural Society, examines processes and options for leaving the EU, and what this means for agricultural legislation, trade and industry.[ii]


  • ‘It is difficult to see exit as beneficial to the UK farming sector, or to the UK food and drink industry more generally. [p.31]
  • A simple free trade agreement with the EU is probably the preferred option for the UK, but that this may be difficult to achieve, especially if restrictions on free movement are also desired. The report considers the existing Norwegian and Swiss models but argues against both on the basis of the UK having to follow a large body of EU rules with no influence over how they are agreed. [30, 35]
  • Likely to see reduction in farming subsidies (particularly under CAP Pillar 1), less generous trade terms and not much regulatory reduction, as the UK is not a ‘big player’ in terms of international agricultural trade. [31]
  • Next steps:
    • continue to function as member of the EU during negotiations, until the withdrawal comes into force – probably after two years. [4]
    • agree interim arrangements to bridge the transition out of EU frameworks, such as the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). [4]cowshed

‘Food, the UK and the EU: Brexit or Bremain?’, Tim Lang and Victoria Schoen, for the Food Research Collaboration. This Briefing Paper explores existing UK and EU food policy and the implication of Brexit and Bremain on our food system.


  • ‘The food case for Brexit has largely been uncharted bar some thought by UKIP on farming. Politicians need to be pressed on what they would do, following Brexit. The food case for Bremain is that it retains existing moves to engage with the sustainability challenge with other EU Member States. Much could be also done by the UK Government on its own, such as reducing diet-related ill-health, rebuilding horticulture, and beginning to cut the diet-related carbon footprint.’ [p.2]
  • ‘The post-Brexit food world will be characterised by volatility, disruption and uncertainty. Food import costs will rise if the price of sterling falls.’ [p.2]
  • The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) are flawed ‘but many failings have been addressed and there is a case for further improvement rather than abandonment. Leave campaigners argue that money and policy could be better targeted outside of this framework, as well as reducing red tape.’ [p.2]
  • Regardless of Brexit or Bremain, the EU food system needs ‘urgent reform’, facing issues of climate change, demographic change, changes in diet and supply chains, and needing to shift to healthier and more sustainable food. ‘If current change is too slow and vested interests are too powerful, Brexit merely adds new complications, risks and uncertainties.’ [p.2][iii]


National Farmers Union

  • ‘NFU Council resolved that on the balance of existing evidence available to us at present, the interests of farmers are best served by our continuing membership of the European Union.’
  • The NFU have launched the sector’s most significant consultation over the impact of Brexit and what a future domestic farming policy should look like.
  • NFU commitments for next steps:
    • To achieve the best possible access Europe’s markets, which will remain extremely important to Britain’s farmers.
    • To get access to markets in the rest of the world, while ensuring we are protected from imports which are produced to lower standards.
    • To ensure our farmers and growers can get the necessary supplies of labour, both seasonal and full-time.
    • To build a British agricultural policy which is as simple as possible, adapted to our needs and guarantees parity of treatment with European farmers, who will still be our principal competitors. There must be a common framework of a British policy, while allowing a necessary degree of flexibility to devolved governments.
    • Regulations and product approvals must be proportionate and based on risk and science.[iv]

Sustain: The alliance for better food and farming

  • ‘As an alliance of all the leading organisations working to improve food and farming in the UK, the mood amongst many of our members is one of shock’.
  • ‘The Government now has no excuse for hiding behind others over inaction on the issues that will affect our country and its citizens’.
  • Uncertainties regarding future health, environmental legislation and workers’ rights, which were previously been defined by the EU. Sustain are working to make voices of food campaigners heard in the changes ahead:
    • subsidies going to UK farmers, which made up a significant amount of the money sent to, and received back from, the EU.
    • the government 25-year food and farming plan.
    • renegotiation of Common Fisheries Policy, Common Agricultural Policy and trade agreements.[v]

Soil Association

  • ‘One of the Soil Association’s key charitable objectives is to preserve, conserve and protect the environment and our view is that these objectives were far more likely to be achieved as part of the EU’.
  • UK will still be required to comply with EU organic standards in order to trade.
  • Soil Association will be working closely with UK government to develop best solutions to wildlife, environment, organic farmers and vulnerable communities.[vi]

Any silver linings?

The prevailing feeling amongst sustainable food and farming experts is that the Leave vote will have negative consequences on our food system. However, the Remain campaign state that there are positives which could come out of a transition:

  • Simpler and more locally tailored farming legislation, funding and policies
  • Chance to lead on progressive farming practices, e.g. the UK is currently leading in the area of animal welfare.[vii]

What do you think? Email us your comments to add below!















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One Response to What does Brexit mean for our food system?

  1. Hannah Jacobs says:

    “Brexit is an opportunity for Britain to re-think its food and agricultural strategies from first principles — and in particular those of agroecology, food sovereignty, and economic democracy.

    Among other things we should:

    ** Pursue a policy of self-reliance in food – raising 100% of the kind of food that we are able to grow in our temperate climate (which we could easily do). Trade would then be confined to desirable things we can’t sensibly grow at home (coffee, bananas etc) – and would of course be conducted along equitable lines. It would also be good/ necessary to keep some other trade routes open for reasons of diplomacy and insurance.

    ** We need to install a government that (a) is on the side of the British people, humanity, and the biosphere and (b) is not afraid to govern. Over the past 35 or so years since neoliberalism (“the free market”) became the global norm, neither of these requirements has been met. Successive governments have regarded agriculture not as an essential service (the most essential of all) but as “a business like any other” with a mandate to maximize short-term wealth by whatever means. To this end, in all spheres, they have seen themselves as extensions of the corporate boardroom. The results have been disastrous across the board and are particularly obvious in agriculture and all that goes with it.

    ** Farmers need to create a union or equivalent body that truly represents their interests, and which acknowledges its responsibility to society and the world at large. The current representative body, the NFU, has instead bought in to a strategy of neoliberal-industrial farming which among other things is designed to reduce the number of farmers in the name of “efficiency” (surely the opposite of what trade unions are supposed to do?) and in practice ensures that the rich grow richer (big grants to big farmers etc) while the poor grow poorer (the very opposite of social justice). At the same time the biosphere is wrecked (eg the feeling seems to be that global warming will happen only in distant countries of which we know little and care less, at some time in the future, if it happens at all).

    ** Particular requirements include:

    A million new farmers to farm along agroecological lines

    Housing/ planning reforms so they have somewhere to live

    A corresponding marketing network

    Food culture based on traditional cooking (ie reverse the trend of the past half-century).

    ** Many excellent people around the world are working on aspects of what is necessary, and some are showing how new (which in truth often means traditional) approaches can work very well even in the present, hostile, and obviously dysfunctional economic climate. These excellent people include young and old men and women from all parts of the world, and include farmers, growers, shopkeepers, cooks, schoolteachers, thinking scientists and economists, community leaders, activists, clerics, and policy-makers.

    It would be a very good use of public money (perhaps a few £million) to convene a grouping of such people (I would happily nominate 20 or so to kick things off) to hammer out a strategy for Britain that really could work for the general good.

    Instead, of course, we are likely to see some kind of “plan” cobbled together by the existing Establishment, which will seek to plug British farming ever more firmly into the neoliberal norm (maximization of short-term profit and preservation of the social/ economic status quo) which those in positions of power will say is “realistic”. But we cannot give up hope. The newly established College for Real Farming and Food Culture ( ) is among the many organizations worldwide who are trying out outline what can be done and ought to be done, and trying to help good things to happen. Perhaps, just perhaps, their combined efforts can turn things around before the world implodes.

    I was a “Remain” of course but Britain’s present isolation and a few signs of humanity and enlightenment from the new Prime Minister do provide at least some hope that we might bring about at least some useful change. But we cannot afford to wait on government. Civil society in all guises (inc Good Food Oxford) must take the lead.

    All best wishes

    Colin Tudge, College for Real Farming and Food Culture “