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  • Writer's pictureMeyrick Consulting

Isn’t it time we stood up for UK food?

Food is never far from the headlines and it’s not surprising.

It’s the thing we all need, share and talk about every day. You might have thought that Brexit would give us an opportunity to review how we grow our food, how we process, import, export and look after these precious resources. However, it does look like there may well be some down sides to potential new trade agreements, especially with the U.S.

Do you really want chlorine washed chicken?

It’s interesting that at a time when consumers are rallying behind the ‘fresh’ banner the idea of chlorine washed chicken makes many of us feel somewhat queasy. Chemical interventions are always a topic for debate but is this practice something we want in the UK? This is yet another conundrum facing the food industry and it looks like it may well be a story that runs and runs.

Is the UK so archaic when it comes to food production? Should we care?

LinkedIn feeds have been filled to overflowing with comments on this subject and I felt that this week it was important to react to some of the debate. It seems the US find Europe and the UK’s farming practices to be archaic and thinks ‘unwanted barriers’ should be removed. The key question must be, should we compromise our standards for the sake of ‘cheaper chicken’? Shouldn’t we be relying on less meat anyway as the centre of our dishes? Wouldn’t it be better to see less on sale but raise the quality all round for everyone? Once upon a time chicken was special and didn’t appear in every sandwich in the land. Chicken has become ubiquitous and perhaps we have started to take it for granted. With the push for more vegetable consumption nothing about “chlorinated chicken” seems attractive. What do you think?

Should we experiment more with what we grow, rear and manufacture in the UK?

The CEO at Foodworks Holding (UK) Ltd, Geoff Quartermaine expressed concerns many other industry specialists share. He said that that because US agribusinesses are such large scale, unit costs are inevitably so much lower. He is concerned that UK farmers will never compete. However, we also have some strange practices where we produce lots of lamb but still import a lot from New Zealand as we don’t eat much shoulder or neck, don’t like frozen lamb and also favour leg meat? Shouldn’t we be a little more experimental and use what we have and also eat more seasonally?

Can you afford food ethics and choices?

Yet another issue is also the fact that cheap meat is inevitably attractive to those who need to find economical choices. Isn’t it the case that you have to be able to afford it if you want to shop ethically? But why should those who cannot afford ‘farm assured’ or organic have their health potentially compromised?

Isn’t this the time to find new, optimistic and far-reaching solutions?

Surely Brexit should have been a really optimistic time, after everyone realised it was really going to happen? With so much money being spent organising what we are supposed to be doing next shouldn’t we be looking for the very best solutions? Europe has made a lot of difference to food expectations. For example we take for granted the EU regulations 1169/2011 on food information on foodstuff labelling. This legislation improved legibility of food labels. We could finally see a clearer more harmonious presentation of any potential allergens present such as gluten, nuts or soy. We found out where our meat had originated and any nanomaterials appearing in the ingredients. There were also specific rules to stop manufacturers misleading consumers and also when foodstuffs had been previously defrosted. Surely we wouldn’t want to change this would we?

These rules have transformed the food industry in so many ways.

The UK is more than capable of ensuring this quality of labeling remains but more than this perhaps we should really aim to buy local, be more mindful about our purchases and think whether it’s better to eat less and go for higher local quality produce. Does that sound fair or unrealistic? How do you feel?

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