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Brexit scenarios threaten food standards

UK food and welfare standards are at a very high risk of being undermined by a ‘no deal’ Brexit, according to a new report.

Research commissioned by Friends of the Earth and produced by academics at three British universities assessed five Brexit scenarios for their threat to environmental protection. On food specifically, they concluded that the economic uncertainties engendered by both a ‘planned’ and ‘chaotic’ no deal scenario would likely have knock on effects on the government’s ambition to make agri-environment schemes greener and lead to downward deregulatory pressure on food standards.

Across the board, each of the scenarios – ranging from the Norway model where much of current EU law would still apply to a chaotic exit with no deal with the EU – was deemed to pose some degree of risk to UK environmental protections. The authors noted that regulatory gaps raised the prospect of ‘zombification’ of UK environmental policy whereby EU policies are retained, and exist on the UK statute book, but without a system of governance to enforce them.

Other EU regulations under development, such as the Circular Economy package which aims to adopt more ambitious waste policies, risk not being on the statute book in time to be transferred into UK law.

Regulations protecting habitats and rivers were also deemed at risk with a consequent impact on birdlife and water quality.

“We were promised that Brexit wouldn’t harm our environment – but this analysis shows that under all scenarios currently on the table, this promise will be broken,” said Kierra Box, Brexit campaign lead for Friends of the Earth. ““The legal safeguards are not in place for nature and the climate. And promises of action are just backed up by more promises of action. Time is running out.”

In a further warning on the risk of a chaotic exit, last week a report published by the BEIS Committee into the impact of Brexit on the processed food and drink sector concluded that a no-deal scenario would be “disastrous for UK exports and must be avoided at all costs”.