Britain's Food & Farming: The Brexit Effect Panorama


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Britain's Food & Farming: The Brexit Effect

Tom Heap examines the likely effects of Brexit on the UK's food and farming industry, talking to insiders to determine how the changes will impact consumers.


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Britain is facing the biggest shake-up in food and farming

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since the Second World War.

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The direction will be higher prices, less choice and poorer quality.

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Some farmers fear a bad Brexit deal could drive them out of business.

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I've been through a couple of foot and mouth outbreaks.

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This is more important, more crucial to get right.

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Others say food standards could drop.

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We'll see the environment damaged, we'll see livestock cruelly treated.

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But could food costs actually be lower when we're out of the EU?

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If we buy food from world sources rather than just the European Union,

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prices are something like 20% lower on average.

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And can we strike a good deal?

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So we are a highly desirable market.

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That actually gives us some strength in our negotiation.

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We don't have to just roll over.

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This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for a realistic

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chance for us, to have a say in the way that our farms are farmed.

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Our farms and our food feels very British -

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traditional countryside

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and meals steeped in our culture.

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But in truth, the European Union affects every part of our food

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chain from field to fork.

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The EU say what farmers are allowed to grow

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and, indeed, what they're not.

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The EU sets animal welfare and food standards regulations,

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and will ban imports that don't meet them.

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EU payments come direct to farmers, keeping quite a few of them

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in business. And many of the people that pick and pack our food...

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TRANSLATION

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..are in Britain thanks to EU rules

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on free movement of labour.

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And free-trade regulations mean that fresh fruit and veg

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and that cheeky continental treat are around all year duty-free.

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The EU even controls what can go on the label of our food.

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So when we do leave the European Union,

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where is our next meal coming from?

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Brexit negotiations have just begun, but the UK's divorce bill has

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to be agreed before we start to talk about trade.

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Food and farming, which together make Britain's biggest

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manufacturing sector by far, are ripe for discussion.

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So, I'm cooking up a traditional British lunch.

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Smells good.

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I've invited Guy Smith of the National Farmers' Union,

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food and farming campaigner Vicki Hird and James Cleverly MP,

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a Brexiteer and trade committee member in the last Parliament.

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What are their vital ingredients for a healthy

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exit from the European Union?

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Do you think this administration really values farming?

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Any civilised country has to ask itself,

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do we want to become

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recklessly dependent on imports for our food needs?

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And I accept that is a political question, there is no

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easy answer to that.

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But I think that's the question that we have confronting us

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-at this moment in time.

-What do you think, Vicki,

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do you think this is a kind of fork in the road moment?

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It is a fork in the road.

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We're demanding a massive refocus and rethink

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because a huge amount of protection

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that we've got for our water,

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for our wildlife, for our health, for our safety, comes from Europe.

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Because we're leaving the EU, there is no status quo option,

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so we're going to have to have some reform.

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The criticisms that we as a society, and perhaps as policymakers,

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have just

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not paid food and farming as much attention as it

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deserves, I think, is a very, very fair criticism.

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But we're not going to let vast tracts of the British countryside

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just go to weed.

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So the whole food chain is in for a shake-up,

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and it starts with farming.

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The EU strongly supports farmers,

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but far from all of them support the EU.

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Despite the fact that British farmers receive around £3 billion in

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subsidy payments from the European Union, many of them voted to leave,

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believing that life outside the EU provided them with more opportunity.

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So, with opinion split on the consequences of Brexit, we've been

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to visit two Welsh livestock farmers - one alarmed, one excited.

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24-year-old Jacob Anthony farms in the South Wales Valleys.

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I think one of the main reasons I voted to leave the EU is

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because I'm a young farmer and I'm looking to the future.

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I think a lot of us in the industry weren't happy with the way

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that our sector was going and the way that farming was going,

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so I felt that this was a once in a lifetime opportunity

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for realistic change.

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Away. Away, away. Away, away.

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Away, away, away.

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Jacob works alongside his father and grandfather to raise lamb and beef.

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He thinks Europe-wide decisions about farming just don't work.

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At the moment, with the way the EU works, there's one agricultural

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policy that's meant to fit all 28 nations that are in the EU.

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That agricultural policy was meant to fit countries farming

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reindeer in the Arctic Circle all the way down to

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farmers in the Mediterranean farming olives.

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He believes Britain's contribution to the European budget props up

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bad farmers here and boosts rivals overseas.

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British farmers and the British people are actually

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subsidising foreign countries in eastern Europe, for example,

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and improving their farming to help them become competitors with us.

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Jacob is keen to send his flock to new markets in places like China.

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I feel that by leaving the EU now it gives us a chance to have a

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head start and negotiate other trade links with emerging markets.

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Let's infiltrate them now and negotiate with them new trade deals

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that we haven't been able to whilst we've been a part

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of the European Union.

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60 miles north and back in early March, we visited

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when John Davies was checking on the lambs born overnight.

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It's a family business stretching back more than a century.

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I have a responsibility to the next generation.

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We didn't inherit this business from the last generation,

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we are merely caretakers for the next.

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He works alongside his wife, two children

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and 87-year-old father, who all muck in.

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Yeah, so we've got a few hundred ewes in here now,

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mainly twins, some ewe lambs here.

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John voted Remain,

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and sees huge peril in the wrong deal or a careless Brexit deal.

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Brexit could have a massive effect on our food-producing

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ability in this nation. That's a key strategic decision to make.

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Come on. Come on.

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He says continued subsidy is vital for the survival of hill

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farming especially.

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The new man in charge of agriculture, Michael Gove,

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has pledged to maintain current subsidy levels

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until at least 2022, but John is also very worried about trade.

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Trade is so important to sheep farmers because nearly 40%

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of lambs are exported and of those nearly all 95% go to the EU.

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We need unfettered

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and free access to the European market for what we produce.

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We need those standards to be equivalent for any products

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coming in.

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But if those standards are not the same, John fears cheap,

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mass-produced beef from international competitors

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will drive him to the wall.

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I'm really scared of imports produced to completely

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different standards, hormones, you know, feed-lock beef, etc.

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We're based on pasture, green, pleasant land.

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You know, high environmental standards.

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We really are proud of that.

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But pride alone can't support farming.

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He says we need a policy which echoes the wartime push to

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grow what we eat.

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-ARCHIVE:

-It's up to you - dig for victory.

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For John, it's important we aren't too dependent on foreign imports.

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He thinks it's a matter of our national security.

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I believe that we need to learn the lessons from the past.

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There was a real recognition of the need to produce a certain

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level of food here in the UK.

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We will soon dip below 50% of the food that we eat being

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produced in this country.

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I don't think that's a healthy position. I really don't.

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And across the border and into the Midlands,

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this British farming business say they could abandon these shores.

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G's Fresh in the Vale of Evesham is one of our biggest suppliers

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and growers of fresh vegetables.

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But they also have farms in Poland, the Czech Republic,

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Senegal and Spain.

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The company has around 3,000 foreign workers,

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mainly drawn from around Europe.

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Are there any British workers on the line here?

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-Yes.

-There are?

-Yes.

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-About roughly how many, I mean...

-Erm...

-Roughly.

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-Five.

-Five. Out of 80 or so working in here today?

-Yes.

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So they've got to find a lot more...

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-Yes.

-..if all the migrant labour goes.

-Yes. Yes.

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Yeah.

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So what are we looking at here?

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So this is the first of our UK asparagus, so we've literally

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just started harvesting in the last week, this crop is...

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Out in the field is managing director Derek Wilkinson.

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He's the boss and the only British passport holder.

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He's worried about losing his Bulgarian and Romanian pickers.

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The local area has very low unemployment, and Derek has

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found he can't recruit seasonal British workers in enough numbers.

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I can see why that matters to you

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but why should that matter to the UK shopper?

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Well, it depends whether the UK shopper wants British produce.

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Erm...

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You know, cos without the labour,

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75,000 seasonal staff employed in horticulture, and without

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that labour we will not have a British horticultural industry.

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The Government, aware of these concerns,

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may revitalise the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme,

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which gave access to foreign labour without the right to live here.

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Nearly four million people across the UK are employed in the food

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and drink sector, but Derek feels it's unloved.

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He's seen headlines about sweet hot deals for the car

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industry or banking, and fears farming may be sold out.

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The whole future of our horticultural

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industry could be decided in a simple late-night meeting

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and it could be a trade-off against something else, you know,

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keeping financial services here.

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That is the most worrying thing for us.

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And if it goes the wrong way for them,

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G's Fresh can still grow stuff - but just not here.

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We've got overseas operations,

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we've got the capability to go and set farms up anywhere.

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But leaving the UK is not a decision you'd take lightly?

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I'm a British farmer through and through and, yeah, to suddenly

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stop farming here, moving overseas, would be a heavy heart moment and...

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But, you know, we'd do it.

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The fate of farming is important

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but what happens to food and its price directly affects all of us.

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Some people are already struggling to afford three meals a day.

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This is a place where food prices really matter.

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The Kingstanding Food Community cafe is a charity serving

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affordable meals in a deprived area of Birmingham.

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It's open six days a week,

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staffed by a network of more than 80 volunteers.

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Since we voted Leave, some food staples have already risen 5%,

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mainly due to the fall in the value of the pound.

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Some analysts suggest another jump of 3-5% may be on the way.

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So what are you making here today?

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-We're making some bread today.

-Ah.

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So the bread is made every day in the community cafe to feed

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the local community.

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How do you think families round here are finding food prices currently?

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What we're finding is our volunteers increasingly,

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and rightly so, are going from shop to shop to shop to find

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where they can find their cheapest food.

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Kingstanding is in the top 1% on the deprivation index nationally, so

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you are in an area that's perhaps one of the most poverty stricken

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in the whole of the country in terms of both income and cuts in the area.

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We get people in here who are definitely hungry.

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So you really are trying to keep the prices as low as possible to make

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-them affordable for that clientele.

-To make them as affordable

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as possible for people, yes,

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so that they can access it daily if need be.

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To help keep meals healthy and their costs down,

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they get as much food as possible from their own allotment.

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Long term, if food prices continue to hike, it would have a

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massive impact on a project like this.

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We can't afford to put our prices up in order to cover

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the additional price because people simply won't come.

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So, yeah, it would have a massive negative impact.

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So how is leaving the EU going to affect food price and supply?

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The main supermarkets didn't want to be in this programme,

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so I met with Justin King,

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former chief executive of Sainsbury's, who supported Remain.

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There has been, in my estimation, almost no conversation

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about the potential impact of Brexit on the food supply chain.

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By definition, that means the public at large

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generally are completely in the dark.

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In the dark and, he says, facing three key dangers.

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I think one can say very clearly what the direction will be.

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You know, higher prices, less choice and poorer quality,

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because all of those dimensions have been improved by these open

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trading relationships that we've had over the last 40 years.

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Brexit, almost in whatever version it is, will introduce friction,

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it will introduce barriers.

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That makes it less efficient, which means all three of those

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benefits - prices, quality and choice - go backwards.

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Why are we not hearing this from the supermarkets?

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The last thing you're going to see the serving chief executive

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any retailer say is, "We intend to put up prices."

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The intention of supermarkets is to drive price down, quality up

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and, therefore, improve value for money.

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That was their ambition the day before the Brexit vote

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and it will remain their ambition after it.

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Brexit just made it a whole lot harder, in my estimation.

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Others are more optimistic.

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Consumer goods manufacturer and Leave campaigner John Mills

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believes the EU keeps prices artificially high for the shopper.

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Food prices inside the European Union vary from food

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product to food product, but on average they're something

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like 20% higher than they are in the rest of the world,

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so there's very substantial scope for food prices coming down

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if we switch source of supply outside the European Union.

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But that is because of a lower standard of production,

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and if we're going to get the cheaper price, we'll have to have

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-that lower standard.

-I don't think that's true at all.

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I think the reason why food prices are higher inside the European Union

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is because they've got tariffs which keep the prices up.

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It's not anything to do with quality,

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it's to do with the institutional arrangements, which means

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that the food prices are kept much higher to increase farmers' incomes.

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The Government has said little about plans for food

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and farming after Brexit, so we wanted to speak to the new

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Defra secretary, Michael Gove, or his team.

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But they declined.

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Defra said...

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The problem for our Brexit negotiators is that changing

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the food and farming system is likely to create winners and losers.

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If Britain opens up to the global market,

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shoppers might be winners, as it could drive down food prices.

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Under this scenario,

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farmers who mainly export worldwide could also win.

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But losers from freer trade would be those farmers unable to

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compete with cheap imports.

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And if instead the Government chose to protect those farmers and ensure

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higher standards, consumers could then lose out from higher prices.

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There's a lot at stake

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and the politicians want to get it right because every voter buys food.

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The Prime Minister has already been driving for new deals in America.

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Our special relationship with the USA could provide

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a source of cheap food.

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Much of that food could end up coming from here - this is Iowa,

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a state of pig farms, big fields and where pigs outnumber people by 7-1.

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Some feel food production in the USA is more factory than farming.

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The scale is huge in comparison to the UK.

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The USA is the world's largest beef producer,

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supplying one fifth of the beef eaten around the world.

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One person who has helped put steak many of those plates is

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Iowa cattleman David Trowbridge.

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So we are custom feeding these cattle,

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we like to say that we run a hotel and a restaurant.

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-So...

-And what is it that this hotel and restaurant is particularly

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offering that makes people bring their cattle here?

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Are you a farmer or a maitre d' for cows?

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We're pretty much cattlemen.

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Taking care of cattle is what we do every day.

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This farm houses up to 8,000 cattle

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being intensively fed and fattened up for market.

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They're outside, but not grazing, unlike our beef cattle,

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which are largely grass-fed.

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We have the grain and the resources

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to produce a very high nutrition,

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very desirable edible product for the world. And the United States

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is one...really the only place on earth that we can produce

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that product and Britain's a great possibility where we can go

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with our product and increase our profitability and provide a safe

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and nutritious product for the British people.

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With a new president in the White House, David feels it's time

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to make American farming great again and win new orders from abroad.

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With the new administration that we have, that wants to do

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bilateral agreements with individual countries, we are

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very excited about bringing the US product into Britain.

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What would you say to British cattle farmers -

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just tough that they've got to go to the wall?

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Well, we hope not, we don't want to destroy an industry

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within another country.

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But it's up to your consumers or what they want to pay

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for the product. If it costs more to produce it in Britain or

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if we can do it cheaper here, that is a concern.

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In the UK, we spend roughly 8% of our income on food.

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Americans spend just 6%.

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And that's less than any other country in the world.

0:21:230:21:26

It's partly down to large-scale, cheap and efficient farming.

0:21:260:21:30

Production methods may differ from Britain

0:21:330:21:35

but one thing we have in common is family ownership.

0:21:350:21:38

90% of farms here are run by families.

0:21:380:21:41

The Meier have farmed here in Iowa for more than 100 years.

0:21:440:21:48

Curtis has just invested 900,000 in this new cattle shed with

0:21:480:21:53

rubber flooring, underfloor dung storage and variable ventilation.

0:21:530:21:57

They're comfortable, they've got plenty of room to lay down.

0:22:000:22:03

They're... You know, they're not overcrowded.

0:22:030:22:06

We've had some southern cattle that we've brought in here,

0:22:090:22:12

they were a little on the wild side, they'd be crawling the walls.

0:22:120:22:17

You put them in here a week

0:22:170:22:18

and they're a completely different pen of cattle.

0:22:180:22:21

They're content, they just seem to adapt to the environment.

0:22:210:22:25

Curtis' farm is surrounded by plenty of fields,

0:22:260:22:29

but the cows aren't in them.

0:22:290:22:31

It's where their feed grows, largely genetically modified crops.

0:22:310:22:35

We don't grow any GM crops commercially in the UK -

0:22:360:22:40

the EU severely restricts them.

0:22:400:22:43

You've got 550 cattle in here.

0:22:430:22:46

They're not going to get outside and be on grass.

0:22:460:22:49

-Is that a problem for you?

-No. No. No.

-Is it a problem for them?

0:22:490:22:54

I don't think so.

0:22:540:22:55

Cos most British beef is raised outside on pasture

0:22:550:23:00

and a lot of British farmers, and some shoppers,

0:23:000:23:03

think that's the way it ought to be done.

0:23:030:23:04

What would you say to that?

0:23:040:23:06

You've got to have corn-fed beef to get marbling in the muscle.

0:23:060:23:11

That is what adds flavour and juiciness

0:23:110:23:14

and tenderness to that cut of beef, in my opinion.

0:23:140:23:19

But probably the most controversial difference in livestock farming

0:23:190:23:22

either side of the Atlantic is the American use of growth

0:23:220:23:26

hormones banned in the EU.

0:23:260:23:29

The hormone is administered with this

0:23:290:23:30

and it goes in as an implant into the ear.

0:23:300:23:33

Now, each shot costs about three or four dollars

0:23:330:23:36

but the weight of meat it puts on is worth about 30-40.

0:23:360:23:42

These hormones are banned in Britain.

0:23:420:23:44

With potential foreign competitors using farming techniques

0:23:530:23:56

currently prohibited in the UK, would we welcome their food?

0:23:560:24:01

Let's ask. First stop on our trip, Leicester city centre.

0:24:010:24:05

Here we go.

0:24:060:24:07

Right, now we've got that sorted,

0:24:140:24:16

the idea of this is to find out

0:24:160:24:17

whether people would be inclined to buy imports

0:24:170:24:21

if it made their food cheaper, and I'm going to get them

0:24:210:24:23

to stick one of these Panorama logos on home-grown or

0:24:230:24:26

imports, depending on what they think.

0:24:260:24:28

If importing food made it cheaper, would you be happy to have

0:24:280:24:32

more imports of food or would you stick with home-grown?

0:24:320:24:34

Home-grown.

0:24:340:24:35

-Lovely.

-If you can support the British farmers, I would.

0:24:350:24:38

I could see us go back to the old values, really, you know,

0:24:380:24:41

where everything was home-grown and England, you know,

0:24:410:24:44

looked after itself.

0:24:440:24:45

This, I would have 100%,

0:24:450:24:48

-but we need to buy in...

-Mm-hm.

-..and we need to sell out.

0:24:480:24:54

-OK.

-That's it.

0:24:540:24:55

Lovely.

0:24:560:24:57

Cross country, to a farm shop.

0:24:570:24:59

Yeah, that's great.

0:25:010:25:03

Here we are - Coventry farmers' market.

0:25:080:25:10

-Here?

-Yup, perfect.

0:25:100:25:12

-Come on, over you come. Don't be shy.

-Thank you.

0:25:120:25:15

I can see you looking interested.

0:25:170:25:19

People really do seem to favour the idea of British food.

0:25:240:25:28

Whether they do that when they've actually

0:25:280:25:30

got the money in their hands in the shop is a different matter,

0:25:300:25:32

but they certainly sound convincing.

0:25:320:25:34

So, I'm off - back to my lunch party.

0:25:390:25:42

Guy, you know, we spoke to people and said, precisely,

0:25:440:25:47

"If food imports were to make food a little cheaper,

0:25:470:25:51

"would you like that scenario?" And they still said, "Stay home-grown."

0:25:510:25:55

That's what WE hear.

0:25:550:25:57

And that's really encouraging. And...

0:25:570:26:00

But do you believe them?

0:26:000:26:01

Well, I'm sceptical that they will deliver that.

0:26:010:26:05

I'm aware that people tend to say things to people with

0:26:050:26:07

clipboards outside supermarkets.

0:26:070:26:10

Price sometimes sways consumers more than anything else

0:26:100:26:13

and that's what we've got to be careful of.

0:26:130:26:15

Price, of course, will be important.

0:26:150:26:17

And for some people who are struggling financially,

0:26:170:26:19

price of what you put on your plate and what you feed your children

0:26:190:26:23

with is one of the most important decisions that they can make.

0:26:230:26:27

It is very important, but we've got to remember when people

0:26:270:26:30

are food poor, in food poverty, it's not necessarily

0:26:300:26:33

about making food ever cheaper, lower quality or more processed.

0:26:330:26:37

I get that, but you keep... you keep...

0:26:370:26:39

And I'm going to pull you up on this every time you do it.

0:26:390:26:41

You keep making the jump and it's a logic flaw

0:26:410:26:44

to suggest that cheap means low quality.

0:26:440:26:47

What you can see in America is a massive race to the bottom

0:26:470:26:50

when it comes to food.

0:26:500:26:51

They've really invested heavily in industrial systems,

0:26:510:26:54

particularly when it comes to livestock.

0:26:540:26:56

History has shown us that you can't just put up

0:26:560:26:58

barriers to global markets.

0:26:580:27:01

I mean, we do exist within global markets,

0:27:010:27:03

we can't pretend that we don't and a lot of our animal welfare

0:27:030:27:08

regulation, I think, is absolutely right and is not something I...

0:27:080:27:11

I don't think, I don't perceive there being any appetite to row back

0:27:110:27:13

on that. We don't need the EU's intervention to protect some of

0:27:130:27:16

those things, cos British consumers would want to keep that.

0:27:160:27:19

Well, I'm wary of that.

0:27:190:27:21

That cheaper product grown to different standards,

0:27:210:27:24

lower cost of production, will...

0:27:240:27:26

may well win the day.

0:27:260:27:29

We all eat and the food industry is worth more than car-making

0:27:290:27:32

and aerospace combined.

0:27:320:27:34

Farms cover almost three-quarters of our landscape.

0:27:360:27:39

It's going to need a lot of

0:27:390:27:41

special attention in Brexit negotiations,

0:27:410:27:45

if we are not to have very material

0:27:450:27:47

and adverse consequences downstream.

0:27:470:27:50

It's not too late.

0:27:500:27:51

But it's a pretty short period of time, a lot less than two

0:27:520:27:56

years now, and food needs to get on the agenda pretty soon.

0:27:560:27:59

The establishment doesn't really like Brexit

0:28:000:28:03

and they're throwing up difficulties all over the place,

0:28:030:28:05

which I don't think are going to materialise

0:28:050:28:07

to anything like the extent to which they claim.

0:28:070:28:09

The European Union is so ingrained in our food and farming

0:28:090:28:13

that Brexit could change the face of our countryside,

0:28:130:28:16

the fate of our farmers and the very stuff on our plates.

0:28:160:28:20

Brexit marks a seismic shift for the UK's food and farming industry, but what will it mean for the consumer? The EU affects the whole food chain from field to fork. It dictates what farmers are allowed to grow, sets animal welfare standards and offers a large supply of cheap labour to work in the fields and processing plants.

Panorama's Tom Heap talks to insiders who claim Brexit will mean higher prices, lower quality and less choice on the shelves. Others claim it is a fantastic opportunity to address inefficiency and design a new mode of food production for the next generation.

The programme also travels to the USA, where farming is run on an industrial scale. Will UK consumers back British farmers or switch to potentially cheaper imports of hormone-filled meat from abroad?