By Daniel J. McLaughlin
Through its 45-year membership of the European Union, Britain's dinner table has vastly changed. As the country became more reliant on food imports from EU member states, there have been changes to the recipe book with new ingredients on offer.
"Europe [has] not only nourished the British," the New Yorker argues, "but changed British palates." It was able to access sunny new produce from southern Europe with apricots, peaches, tomatoes and garlic added to the larder. Crossing the channel, Britons developed a taste for fine wine and soft French cheeses.
"In 1973, the UK was a country where olive oil could be bought - if at all - in tiny bottled from the chemist shop, as a cure for earwax. Now you could get lost in the olive oil section of a British supermarket, from the kalamata varieties of Greece to the Arbequine of Spain," the New Yorker writes.
Britain's self-sufficiency has also changed over the years. During the early 1990s, our self-sufficiency in food reached its highest in modern times by producing over 70 per cent of all the food we were eating. It has now dropped to 60 per cent - and when you consider exports, the food Britons eat that is actually produced here is around the 50 per cent mark. That leaves 40 per cent for food imports - about three-quarters is imported directly from the EU.
The Observer's Jay Rayner created a manifesto to keep food on the table after Brexit. He notes that a bad deal would result in huge tariffs and penalties on trade, making food price inflation reach double digits for years to come. "We need an agriculture sector in a position to invest in its base to help improve our productivity and therefore our self-sufficiency," the food critic writes.
He argues that British consumers have become too used to food being sold too cheaply. It makes up 10 per cent of our income (down from 20 per cent in 1970). "Unless we improve our self-sufficiency, we will be at the complete mercies of those international markets. Unless we pay a little more now, we risk paying vastly more later," he concludes.
Our food industry is also too reliant on "just-in-time supply chains", according to the BBC. Although the UK has more supermarkets per head than anywhere else in the world, they keep very little in stock. The produce comes in overnight, much of it through Dover. The British Retail Consortium estimates that, on average, more than 50,000 tonnes of food passes through British ports every single day from the EU.
In preparation for Brexit, storage may not be an option with little spare capacity for food. There are 385 refrigerated warehouses in the country, but more than 90 per cent are in constant use.
It is an issue that the government desperately needs to address. It is understood that they will publish 70 technical notices on how businesses and consumers should prepare for a no-deal Brexit in late August and early September - 20 of them will impact directly on the food industry.
A report from the Science Policy Research United, entitled 'A Food Brexit: time to get real', argues that ministers have much to address - and they did to do so urgently. For instance, there needs to be legislation to replace 4,000 pieces of EU law relating to food. There also needs to be scientific and regulatory infrastructure to replace at least 30 EU-based bodies.
They warn that tariffs could raise imported food prices by 22 per cent post-Brexit. The report also addresses food labour, noting that 35 per cent of food manufacturing workers are from the EU - and there are more in parts of catering and horticulture.
What happens to food in a no-deal Brexit should be food for thought. An acrimonious exit could leave a bitter taste in the mouth of Britons - and leave them with no taste at all due to the lack of food.