Letter to Editor: Brexit and the Food Crisis

Politics / Fri 15th Jun 2018 at 08:20am

Dear Editor,

“A nation that cannot feed itself is no nation at all” according to the old adage.

LEAVING the EU poses serious problems for the food supply industry and already I have witnessed crops rotting in fields around March in Cambridgeshire last autumn.

The supply of foreign labour through Gangmasters is a disgrace, with barrack style accommodation used to exit National Minimum Wage loopholes to deny workers legal minimum pay and Gangmasters taking liberties.

More importantly, the alleged safeguards imposed after the 2004 Morecambe Bay tragedy, where 23 Chinese cockle pickers drowned, have been diluted by the Tory government, albeit in a commendable attempt to tackle modern day slavery.

The Gangmasters Licensing Authority, set up in April 2005, was transformed into the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority in May 2017, taking on a much greater workload than the old GLA, but with with no commensurate increase in its workforce.

The Industrial Relations Research Unit of Warwick University described the effects on the work of the old GLA through enhancing its remit with modern slavery in the new GLAA thus: “a risk that attention, resources and external evaluation of ‘success’ get focussed towards extreme, criminal behaviour rather than embrace the whole exploitation continuum including preventing and tackling ‘lower level’ non- compliance with labour standards.”

However, Dr Charles Clutterbuck, Unite the union’s agricultural advisor, has presented an alternative to low agricultural sector pay. He argues in his new 2017 book, ‘Bittersweet Brexit’, that the EU’s near £3 billion Common Agricultural Policy subsidies could be used to enhance the wages of up to 300,000 agricultural sector workers by £10,000.

Dr Clutterbuck also highlights the complexities of disentangling ourselves from the EU, stating that 40 per cent of EU Directives and Regulations relate to the food and farming sector. In relation to food prices, he makes clear that the 2000 agricultural tariffs and the 15,000 Processed Agricultural Products tariffs, which range from 3 to 40 per cent, will have a dramatic effect on prices unless our exit from the EU is managed to avoid this calamity.

Brexit requires a thorough rethink of our agricultural policy, in terms of labour and our ability to grow our own food. In the 1980’s we imported around 25 per cent of our food, now it’s over 50 per cent. Dr Clutterbuck argues that the UK could reduce our food imports by half, saving nearly £25 billion on the UK’s balance of payments.

Also, the National Farmers Union ‘Contributions of UK Agriculture’ report, published in February 2017, found that the agricultural industry employed directly and indirectly a total of 505,000 workers in 2015 and contributed a net £38.2 billion to the economy. The benefits versus costs ratio of agriculture was 7.4 to 1, with some other studies suggesting a wider economic benefit up to a factor of 10 for each £1 invested in the rural economy.

Brexit gives the UK an unprecedented opportunity to reshape agriculture from monoculture to diverse crop production, and minimising its effects on the environment through nitrates and pesticides. However, it will require the input of trade unions and consumers to ensure we get a food supply industry that meets the needs of the people and the environment for the 21st century. This is Harlow TUC’s small contribution to the debate.


David Foreman
Harlow TUC

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7 Comments for Letter to Editor: Brexit and the Food Crisis:

2018-06-15 16:41:52

I think we can all agree that exiting the EU will take a hell of a lot longer than anyone anticipated, with the potential for significant political damage for the government. At all costs a crashing out needs to be avoided, as that will be catastrophic for business and employees alike. The trade unions can play an essential role in preventing this nightmare scenario by being one of a chorus of institutions warning against such as disaster. Trade unions remain the only organisations actually looking out for workers' rights as so for me, are the most important factor in this chorus. Of course, there is the possibility that Brexit won't happen. It certainly won't happen in the way it was originally conceived.

2018-06-16 15:49:12

Out of Europe the sooner the better. Majority of people in this country don't want, or belong to a union. A vote gave the electorate the out option. Done deal. Gangmaster organisations were mainly run by people from the same parts of Europe, from whence the workers came from, exploitation. Once we get back to trading with the Commonwealth the better off we will be, no levies or taxes to pay to the Euro's. Fantastic.

2018-06-16 17:48:57

37% of the electorate voted to leave so 63% didn't. But don't let facts get in the way of your argument. One of two scenarios will happen. We'll be tied to the single market for years if not decades because it would be political suicide to crash out. By then, there'll be no will to leave completely and likely be a majority to stay in. Or, we'll have a messy divorce and the resulting crisis will kick off years of rejoining by stealth, starting with a "bridging arrangement" to steady the ship which will rapidly become permanent. Either way, we ain't going anywhere.

2018-06-17 04:57:07

Oh but we are. Leavers still won the vote, and, you can't twist that. 17 million against ?

2018-06-18 06:34:23

Pretty good piece. Not long now; thankfully!

2018-06-26 16:58:52

Did you vote to be poorer, Micky? That wasn't on the ballot paper. And your beloved Farage now admits it ain't going to be much fun, despite saying over and over again that it would be.

2018-06-27 05:43:43

Don't presume on my politics, young boy.

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