BBC Radio 4’s Food Programme (July 3) set a new BBC high in the relentless scare-mongering about Brexit. The ringmaster was Dan Saladino. He presented, in effect, a half-hour rant against what he projected as is one of the most dangerous and foolhardy decisions in British history.
The principal guests were supporters of ‘remain’ who predicted, among other things that the Scotch whisky industry was now in serious danger; hundreds of thousands of European workers in the food industry were now living in fear, there could be rioting in the streets, that Brussels red tape around food had been seriously misrepresented, and small food businesses were deeply worried about the loss of EU grants and investment plans and were already facing sharply-elevating costs.
Larded into the commentary and contributions were words such as panic and fear, coupled with insinuations of prejudice (against immigrants), stupid decisions, wrong claims and a lack of planning.
First off was Ian Wright, the director of the Food and Drink Federation, which campaigned vigorously against exit, and now that the vote is lost, is marshalling all its resources to continue to fight the war, as is clear here. Wright opened by asking ‘what on earth’ we do next. Saladino stressed his credentials and said the FDF’s members were ‘some of the biggest brands and employers in the country’, with 6,000 businesses employing 500,000. Wright said he was ‘sombre’, there were a ‘really serious set of challenges’, the government did not know how to respond. He added:
There has been, as far as I can see, no planning at all for this eventuality, and now we have to help them plan, very, very quickly. Now, I think this is the biggest peacetime challenge that the UK has ever faced.
Saladino said that FDF’s members had been 10% pro-leave and 70% wanted to ‘remain’. Wright said:
Because all of the free trade agreements under which we operate are negotiated by Europe rather than the UK, and if they cease to apply we have to go back to WTO tariffs which are in almost every case far, far less advantageous to the UK, and everybody recognised the implications for free movement of labour. A quarter of our workforce comes from the non-UK, non-Republic of Ireland European countries. Many of them are very frightened, many of them are actually very, very, very uncertain about whether they should remain in the UK and that puts an enormous strain on our businesses. And at this stage, we simply don’t know what their status will be.
Saladino said that all week he (Wright) had been talking to businesses that imported billions of pounds; of ingredients; ‘and so the immediate shock was watching as costs went up by the second as the pound fell’. Wright added:
It’s very difficult, in an industry where, remember, the margins are very tight because of the current supermarket competition, the very, very strong price wars. Any changes to prices in those tight margins are very concerning.
Saladino then spoke to David Thomson, Wright’s counterpart in Scotland, who thought that sales of scotch whisky worth £4.2bn a year were now under severe threat.
Julia Glottz, editor of The Grocer magazine. She said the horsemeat scandal, in effect, paled by comparison. The price of raw materials would rocket with ‘huge impact’ in the longer term. Bakery manufacturers were ‘in despair’ about what would happen to their Polish staff. There were ‘very, very urgent questions about the future’.
Becky Rothwell, of the Magic Rock Brewery, said the fall in the pound meant that the American hops they used were now much dearer because of the fall in the value of the pound. Everything now was going to be a struggle. Saladino asked whether they could use UK-grown hops. The answer was a decisive ‘no’. Serious problems were in store.
Illtud Dunsford., owner of Charcuterie Ltd in Wales, was worried about EU subsidies ending in his native Wales because the area was an Objective 1 area. Without EU funding, he would not create jobs. Saladino pointed out that he had received a £120,000 EU grant to build a new processing facility and was going to get help to market his products in ‘Europe’. Now, though, he had a bad feeling. This was because he had seen Nigel Farage’s speech to the European Parliament in which he had said that they were not laughing now. Dunsford said the UK needed a good trade deal but this was not the way of getting it. There was no complete and utter uncertainty. There were no plans to deal with exit. He declared:
And since last week, it’s been my responsibility to them (my staff) that we continue, that we forget about growth, that we forget about expansion, that it’s about securing all our livelihoods. And it’s scary.
This was followed by Professor Tim Lang, who was introduced as being from the City University Centre for Food Policy. He said it was a deep troubling time and we had ‘a serious problem’. The political class was failing to rise to the challenge. Saladino referred to Lang’s research papers on the impact of the EU and noted that they had concluded that membership of the EU kept food prices stable. Lang said:
We then did a study looking at the big picture, of Brexit versus Bremain, and that made us even more concerned. We thought the enormity of this really is not featuring in the debate. Why? Why? This is food. This is what was one of the main motivations for the creation of the common market in the first place. The Netherlands have had a famine in 1944, Europe had been devastated. And then we did two other studies, one on horticulture in particular, because Britain is highly exposed, we get . . . huge amount, big percentage of our horticulture, fruit and vegetable, from the European Union. So, to summarise all of those papers, we concluded we could vote to leave and indeed we did, but if the people chose it a period of major reorganisation was needed. And that was our final point. We didn’t think the British state was ready for it, and what we’re seeing now in politics is a sign that we were absolutely right. There is very little civil service expertise, the politicians haven’t thought about it, there’s no Plan B. The secretary of state even gave a speech in January saying there is no Plan B. I mean, I nearly tore what her I’ve got left out of my head. There should be Plan B, there should be Plan C, D, E and everything. So dear British consumer, think very carefully about this.
Saladino amplified this. He observed that Lang believed that a country that only just feeds itself is a fragile state, and asked if he was overstating this. Lang said not – the UK produced 54% of its own food, 30% came from the EU and the food trade gaps was £21bn – by any definition, that was a fragile state to be in.
Next, a Food Programme phone-in listener asked Lang if food prices would go up. He said there was absolute agreement among academics that they would. More local food would sell, but were those who voted for Brexit prepared to go pick cabbages? There was no sign they would Eastern Europeans, however, would do so.
Saladino said that some believed that Britain was wealthy and so could buy food on the global market.
Lang claimed that Michael Gove had told the BBC that he wanted to open up trade with the rest of the world and in a ‘throwaway remark’ had said that cheaper food could be got from Africa. Lang said:
I thought Africa had a problem and it needed to feed itself? Is that option really moral and justified? I don’t think so. It’s a fantasy of free trade – very strange politics.
Saladino observed that this, however , was not strange to people working hard to take Britain out of the EU.
(After hearing from the Adam Smith Institute and New Zealand meat farmers), Saladino noted that New Zealand farmers were forced to change their business plans. He asked:
But should we expect a future in which food production becomes simpler, more vibrant and free from unnecessary red tape? Well no, says journalist and food writer Rose Prince. She spent her week reflecting on a story she investigated 16 years ago.
Prince explained that she had worked in 2000 on the story of UK abattoirs closing down in huge numbers. Saladino said the numbers had fallen from 1000 in 1985 to 200 today. Prince said that Brussels red tape had been blamed, but said the real culprit – as had been established by an inquiry in Parliament – had been the UK ministry, which had interpreted the rules in a way that was ‘almost hostile’. She asserted:
There was a willingness to believe that it is all the fault of Brussels. We would be reading stories about straight bananas and people absolutely loved to believe all of that. When it came to more difficult subjects like the meat industry, if you went to an editor and said, ‘I really need to tell you that this actually not the case, and it’s our government to have the problem’ they weren’t that willing to go along with that. And I mean, this is where it’s been for absolutely years. And is even now.
Saladino said that ‘we were learning’ that the Breixt story would likely take generations to unfold. He said that meanwhile Oliver Letwin was leading negotiations, and Tim Lang believed the exercise had to be treated as a ‘top priority’. Lang declared:
In Mr Letwin’s new unit, which Prime Minister Cameron has said he’s setting up, there needs to be a big bunch of food specialists in there, or else people like me are very worried, indeed. Why? Because food security matters. Food has a great capacity to create riots. Food ought to be for health, for biodiversity, for good things in life, all the things the Food Programme has celebrated since Derek Cooper started it. We want to maintain that, but we’re now in tricky waters. Food has got to be in those negotiations, we’ve got to have specialists brought back out of retirement, because DEFRA has sacked huge swathes of its workforce, and we’ve got to make sure that the public health and environmental interests, and consumer interests are right in the centre of those EU negotiations.
Saladino implored Lang to say something positive. He said:
‘…why have young people voted so strongly for Europe? Because they’re Europeans in their food culture. So I think there is an opportunity for progressive food movements to come forward and say we want a good food system for Britain. If the political classes can’t deliver that, well we have to push it onto them.
Saladino said the podcast edition had more on ‘the unfolding story of Brexit’ including that Rosie Prince was deeply concerned about the 73 British foods which were under the EU’s Protected Name Scheme, including Stilton and Scotch beef. Prince said:
If we, through leaving Europe, lose the right to participate in the Protected Food schemes, it will be a tragedy. It’s good for our industry.
Saladino said that the chef Angela Hartnett was worried about the restaurant world with its 600,000 employees. She said:
The one thing that comes through more than anything in the restaurant industry is movement of people. My restaurant, 70% are Europeans – easily.
Two voices in favour of Brexit were included.
A fisherman – who said only that he had been praying for exit.
Tim Worstall, from the Adam Smith Institute think-tank, was introduced by Saladino as someone who did not think it morally wrong to take food from Africans. He said the vote to leave was the first decent decision in 20 years. Saladino said he was a former speechwriter for Nigel Farage. Many of his arguments revolved around food, then asked him if he had expected a degree of panic. Tim Worstall agreed there would be a period of ‘headless’ chickens’ but then things would settle down. Saladino said that on a Skype call from his home in Portugal, Worstall thought there would be a more stable and affordable food future. He said:
The bigger problem I think that people have got here is that they really just don’t quite understand how markets work. We do not buy food from the European continent because we are members of the European Union. It’s some farmer, it Georges or Jacques or Joaquim or somebody who sells something to Sainsbury’s, and why would that change just because we’ve changed the political arrangement? Whatever tariffs food faces after Brexit will be determined exactly by the British government. We get to decide what our import tariffs are. Why are we going to make the things we want to buy more expensive for ourselves? So, obviously, you know, we like buying continental food, great, we won’t have tariffs on continental food. What’s the difference?
Saladino asked him if he agreed that food had got cheaper, and as TW answered suggested it had happened ‘under EU membership’. TW said that tariffs had to be paid on food from outside the EU and could be up to 35%. If the UK was outside the EU it could choose where to buy products like sugar from wherever it wanted. He added:
Here in the UK, or you there in the UK, should be growing the high value stuff that Britain grows really well. I mean, our grass-fed beef, for example, is some of the best in the world. People line up to buy joints of it. But it’s simple stuff like turnips or wheat. Why should we even think about trying to grow it in the UK when there’s the vast steps of the Ukraine, or the American Midwest or the Canadians, at hundreds of dollars a ton, and ship it to us? Why would we bother to make this cheap stuff when we’re a high income, high cost nation.
Saladino said Tim Worstall’s vision was based on the economic model of Beef and Lamb New Zealand which came into existence in the 1980s when subsidies came to an end. Dave Harrison said the number of sheep had halved but the businesses were now profitable.
ANALYSIS: Saladino’s programme was deeply biased against the impact of Brexit on the food industry , and, indeed, appeared deliberately constructed to be negative towards the prospect. On a basic, logistical level, there were eight contributors who expressed serious concerns about what would happen next as a result of the ‘exit’ vote, against only two who favoured the UK’s departure from the EU. One of those – a fisherman – was a token inclusion in that he spoke only one sentence. Saladino explained next to nothing about the fishermen’s concerns about the EU.
In sharp contrast, the supporters of ‘remain’ were all given full opportunities to explain their respective stances, often with help from Saladino, who reinforced their points, or added details clearly designed to show their importance and validity.
Another point of negativity against ‘out’ was that Tim Worstall, the sole Brexit supporter who gave reasons for his stance, was introduced as a speechwriter for Nigel Farage. Why was this emphasised? By comparison, for example, Saladino did not mention that one of the ‘remain’ contributors, Professor Tim Lang, is deeply connected to the green movement through the highly partisan campaigning organisation Sustain. Those from such organisations view Farage and Ukip as racist and xenophobic. The suspicion must be, therefore, that Saladino wanted to stress the Farage connection for negative political reasons, and to undermine his contribution.
What Tim Worstall did say boiled down to two fundamental points – that tariffs in future could be negotiated according to British needs – meaning that some tariffs would go down – and that the UK should start buying low-cost food staples that need not be grown here from other markets and concentrate on developing high cost, high value food products in keeping with the UK’s status as a high-cost nation.
There was thus, at best, only minimal effort to bring pro-Brexit ideas into the frame.
By contrast, those who wanted to point out the problems of Brexit were given virtually a free rein. With Ian Wright of the Food and Drink Federation, Saladino stressed his authority by explaining that he led an organisation representing 6,000 businesses and half a million employees, and which imported billions of pounds’ worth of ingredients. To summarise his contribution, Wright suggested that Brexit was the biggest peacetime challenge ever faced by the UK; that there was a danger that higher WTO tariffs would be imposed on food: and that hundreds of thousands of workers in the food industry were now living in fear. Saladino made no attempt to challenge anything he said, and at the end of his contribution added another problem – the shock to food importers as the value of the pound ‘went up by the second’.
The next contributor, Wright’s counterpart in Scotland David Thomson, issued another warning, that the £4.2bn Scotch whisky export was in dire danger. Saladino amplified this, too, by pointing out that although Scotland sold whisky to China, ‘the biggest market was Europe’. Another problem, he said, was that whisky distillers saw ‘EU membership as giving them more clout’. Thomson added (to reinforce the point) that membership was seen as vital because of ‘the weight of Europe in trade negotiations and protecting their intellectual property’.
Saladino ‘s introduction to Julia Glotz of The Grocer magazine was as glowing as that of Wright and Thompson. The magazine, he said, had been around for 150 years and had covered the UK’s biggest food stories. Ramping up the drama, he added that Glotz had been trying that week, in connection with Brexit, to keep track of the sheer quantity of stories from inside an industry which was the UK’s largest manufacturing sector. He suggested that exports worth £20bn were at stake. Glotz in summary, said events of the week had felt more dramatic than the horsemeat scandal, there were ‘very, very urgent questions to answer’, prices of raw materials had gone up overnight, businesses – some in ‘absolute despair’ were very worried about the long-term impact, and whether lay-offs of overseas staff would be necessary.
Saladino introduced Becky Rothwell of the Magic Rock brewery by saying that they had plans to sell in Europe, but were now feeling an immediate effect of the referendum vote. Rothwell said there had already been huge price increases for American hops. A lot of people would struggle with this, they did not know what was happening. Introducing Illtud Dunsford oif Charcuterie Ltd, Saladino noted that though Wales had voted for exit, his story painted a ‘less familiar side of the EU’. He explained that through the EU, he had received £120,000 to build a new processing plant and had ambitions to move into Europe with his products. Dunsford claimed that all this had changed because Nigel Farage had attacked the European Parliament for not believing him about Brexit. There was an extract from the Farage speech. In the next sequence, Dunsford claimed that this was not the way to reach trade deals. Now everything was at risk without a Plan B, or any plan at all.
Saladino picked up this theme, and introduced Professor Tim Lang, who, he said, believed no plans were in place and this therefore was a ‘serious problem’. Saladino added that Lang’s papers on the EU showed that it had helped keep food prices stable. Lang himself, in this framework, issued a series of dire warnings about the prospects for the food industry. His thesis was the EU had been set up to create security in the food supply, there was no plan to deal with Brexit, and not even the expertise to facilitate it. Saladino noted at this point that Lang’s papers had also pointed out that a country which only just fed itself was a very fragile state. He asked whether this was an overstatement. Lang’s answer was resoundingly not. For numerous reasons, the food industry was going to suffer. Saladino asked if the UK could import food from the rest of the world. Lang’s answer was simply that Michael Gove had suggested such food could come from Africa. This was impossible because Africa needed to feed itself. He claimed the ‘leave’ approach was thus a ‘fantasy of free trade’.
Saladino made no effort to challenge this, or to suggest Lange had side-stepped a huge topic (the possibilities of free trade) by an ad hominem attack. The reality is that African producers do want to export to the EU, but are seriously disadvantaged in doing so because of tariffs and green concerns ion the EU about air transport.
After the sequence with Tim Worstall already mentioned above, Saladino noted that there were claims that the EU created red tape in food production. Rose Prince’s contribution was to debunk the idea that the closure of hundreds of UK abattoirs in the 1990s , despite what newspapers said, was down to the EU. It was rather overzealous interpretation of the EU rules by British ministry officials.
Saladino observed as he headed towards the conclusion that ‘we are quickly learning that the Brexit story….will take years and more like generations to unfold’. He noted that a cabinet team under Oliver Letwin had been set up. Professor Lang then warned that there needed to be food specialists in the equation, because food had a great capacity to create riots. He finished off with ‘something positive’ – at the invitation of Saladino – that young people had voted strongly for Europe ‘because they are Europeans in their food culture’ If the political classes would not accept that ‘we will have to push it onto them’.
Quoting all that has been necessary to show the strength of the anti-Brexit sentiment and opinion included in the programme. Stripped down it amounted to a tsunami of negative speculation about the likely consequences of Brexit a re-run of the arguments for ‘remain’ that Lang, and the Food Federation had already advanced in the run-up to the vote, and strident complaints that an exit plan was not already in place. The only concrete development contained in all the comment was that some food prices had gone up to British importers (such as the Magic Rock company) of overseas ingredients in the backwash of the Brexit vote.
Arguably, that was also the consequence, however, of actions of market speculators. Saladino could have chosen to analyse that but chose not to – it was considered only through the negative Brexit prism.
Overall, Saladino acted only as midwife to the compilation of what amounted to a treatise against Brexit. The inclusion of what meagre counter-opinion was qualified by his undermining by association of the sole at-length supporter of exit.
A further point here is that Professor Tim Lang was projected without qualification as an expert on EU-food issues. He has, of course, written extensively on this subject. But what the programme did not mention at all – or seek to challenge – was that he his highly partisan in his approach. He is a member of the Sustain organisation, which works to influence food policy through the green agenda, and which receives significant financing from the EU.
Equally, the Food and Drink Federation has a highly partisan agenda and for years has been strongly pro-EU. The job of programme such as this is to step outside such frameworks of self-interest and promotion. Arguably, the FDF is big business looking after its own needs. In this programme, its narrow perspective set the whole programme agenda. That is bias of the worst kind. There was also gross bias by omission – of voices who thought that Brexit offers new horizons for the British food industry.
Transcript of BBC Radio 4, The Food Programme, 4th July 2016, 12.30pm
ANNOUNCER: Now, a special edition of the Food Programme with Dan Saladino.
DAN SALADINO: I need to ask you a question: how has your week been?
UNNAMED FEMALE: The UK has voted to leave the European Union (cheers)
DAVID CAMERON: The British people have voted . . .
MISHAL HUSSAIN (?): There were big wins for Leave.
DC: . . . and their will must be respected.
MISHAL HUSSAIN: In The City, shares plunged, and the pound fell dramatically.
DC: The country requires fresh leadership.
MH: Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU.
NICOLA STURGEON: A second referendum must be on the table.
DS: As if you need reminding. But that question I posed, ‘how has your week been?’ isn’t intended to sound flippant, it’s actually the question I’ve spent the last couple of days put into people whose lives and livelihoods revolve around food and drink, farming and retailing. So, if you are feeling a little Brexited out, I’m genuinely sorry, but the last 10 days has served up a way to big a food story for the Food Programme to ignore. And in many ways it’s an untold story. So this our Plan B – a fast and sometimes furious exploration of a newly unpredictable food future.
UNNAMED MALE: It has thrown what I’ve known pretty much throughout my farming career all up in the air.
UNNAMED FEMALE 2: I have no knowledge of what it’s like to be outside the EU.
DS: Think of this programme as less a guide as to what’s going to happen next and more a road map of the food issues to be aware of, or even just what questions we need to start asking when it comes to food. I can’t promise you a huge amount of joy, but I think there’s at least one laugh tucked away in the programme, and I think we’ve found a way of ending on a positive note. But first, let’s hear from a small sample of the people who really matter. That’s you, me, and the other 60-odd million of us, all following events as best we can.
UNNAMED MALE 2: Food wasn’t something that I heard anyone talk about, or recognise that some things might get more expensive.
UNNAMED MALE 3: Everybody talks about the price of food going up, and yet, by the pound valuing, British farmers are going to get a better deal from a lot of the supermarkets, we’ll be buying a lot more British products.
UNNAMED FEMALE 3: I don’t think it will make much difference to ordinary working class people, to be honest. I wonder where my shopping bill’s taking me every week, so it doesn’t make any difference.
DS: Well, is Brexit making any difference? Let’s go back to our central question: ‘how has your week been?’, one I put to a man who has an eye across the vast majority of food consumed in the UK. And it’s safe to say his was a stressful week.
IAN WRIGHT: The real question was what on earth do we do now, because (fades out)
DS: Ian Wright is the director of the Food and Drink Federation, which represents some of the biggest brands and employers in the country, from Nestlé and Unilever to smaller producers including Nairn’s oatcakes and Hawkshead Relish, and it all adds up to more than six thousand businesses, and a workforce of close to half a million. He says after the initial shock, he started to plan.
IW: I’m sombre and of a mood that we’ve got to get on with it and get to a solution now. We’re faced with a really serious series of challenges; we do not know how the government will respond and that’s because the government doesn’t know how it will respond. There has been, as far as I can see, no planning at all for this eventuality, and now we have to help them plan, very, very quickly. Now, I think this is the biggest peacetime challenge that the UK has ever faced.
DS: And an issue for his membership, who make up a large part of the UK’s food supply. The reason is that 10% of the FDS members are thought to have been pro-Leave – and 70% backed remaining in the EU.
IW: Because all of the free trade agreements under which we operate are negotiated by Europe rather than the UK, and if they cease to apply we have to go back to WTO tariffs which are in almost every case far, far less advantageous to the UK, and everybody recognised the implications for free movement of labour. A quarter of our workforce comes from the non-UK, non-Republic of Ireland European countries. Many of them are very frightened, many of them are actually very, very, very uncertain about whether they should remain in the UK and that puts an enormous strain on our businesses. And at this stage, we simply don’t know what their status will be.
DS: And all week, he’s been talking to businesses who import billions of pounds ingredients, and so the immediate shock was watching as costs went up by the second as the pound fell.
IW: It’s very difficult, in an industry where, remember, the margins are very tight because of the current supermarket competition, the very, very strong price wars. Any changes to prices in those tight margins are very concerning.
DS: North of the border, Ian Wright’s counterpart as a man called David Thomson. Members of the Scottish Food and Drink Federation make up 20% of Scotland’s economy. David had been looking forward to Friday June 24.
DAVID THOMSON: I was lucky enough to be wondering around the Royal Highland Show which is a big agricultural show in Scotland, with lots of food companies there. And most people’s immediate reaction was one of confusion and uncertainty.
DS: Confusion and uncertainty quickly turned to anxiety for a group of members who campaigned hard for Remain – Scotland’s distillers.
DT: Scotch whisky is the UK’s biggest food export, and therefore is Scotland’s biggest food export worth something north of £4.2 billion a year. So, it’s not anything that can be played with.
DS: Because however popular whisky has become in China and India, Europe remains the biggest market. But their anxiety isn’t just about sales. They also see EU membership as giving them more clout.
DT: Not least of which is the weight of Europe in trade negotiations and protecting their intellectual property all over the world.
DS: But for others in Scotland, June 24 was a long-awaited day of celebrations.
FISHERMAN: It’s a totally new ballgame. We just have to take stock and see where we go from here.
DS: Unlike the distillers, Scotland’s fishermen wanted Out.
F: You see I’m a bit emotional. The strong we’ve had er . . . the last few years, watching the Europeans steal our fish away from us, it, yes, it was an emotional night.
DT: They feel that they can better manage the seas than Brussels negotiations would ever get them, and so it has not been a unified picture in Scotland.
DS: Someone else who I asked how their week had been had simply been trying to keep up with the quantity of stories coming from inside the food industry, which, I should mention, is the UK’s largest manufacturing sector, with more than £20 billion of exports at stake.
JULIA GLOTZ: It’s been an absolutely extraordinary week (fades out)
DS: That’s Julia Glotz, managing editor of The Grocer magazine, and during the publication’s 150 year history, they’ve covered the UK’s biggest food stories.
JG: I remember the horsemeat scandal very well, but it didn’t feel quite as dramatic as this past week has been. Some smaller manufacturers in particular, have told us that the price of their raw materials searched overnight and they’re very worried about the impact that is going to have longer term. The conversations I’ve been having have been more, been more emotional than, than usual.
DS: You mentioned this felt like a week . . . like no other, I mean, was there one conversation, one story that made you realise that?
JG: (exhales) It’s the account of our bakery manufacturer, who, who told us just of her absolute despair, her worry for her Polish staff, whether she would be able to retain them, her concern about soaring raw material prices, and as a small business owner just some very, very urgent questions about her future.
DS: Which got me thinking about a few people I thought might be vulnerable to the clear signs of economic shock, as George Osborne has described it, caused by the Brexit vote. The young, small food businesses we feature each year in our BBC Food and Farming Awards. And at this point, I think we all need a drink.
UNNAMED MALE 4: A pint of (word unclear) please.
UNNAMED MALE 5: Cannonball, which is our flagship IPA, full of American hops.
DS: Magic Rock in Huddersfield is one of the UK is 1,300 breweries riding the wave of the craft beer revolution. Its small, creative and inspirational team produce a growing range of beers, and with plans to expand and sell into Europe. I arranged to meet one of the Magic Rock team as they arrived into King’s Cross Station to promote their beers in London. I asked Becky Rothwell about her week. She told me that after the referendum result there was an immediate effect.
BECKY ROTHWELL: We’ve already experienced huge increases. We get a lot of our hops from the USA, our container of key kegs that we used to package the beer cost an additional £800 to what it normally costs. The . . .
DS: £800 . . .
BR: £800 extra, just because of the devaluation of the pound. We’re going to have to reconsider various things erm . . .
DS: Like what?
BR: The margins in beer are very small, so I can imagine a lot of people are going to struggle with it. We just don’t know what’s going to happen.
DS: Because their approach and their entire businesses is dependent on overseas ingredients – malt from Germany, specialist hops from the US. Prices of both went up fast.
BR: It’s already incredibly hard for small UK breweries to secure hops. Although we’re guaranteed the hops that we’ve got, they can’t guarantee the exchange rate.
DS: One argument is it’s good for British hop growers?
BR: Well, yeah, that is one of the things, but if you look at modern craft beer, everyone wants these US flavours that are coming out.
DS: I predict a revival of Fuggle’s.
BR: (laughs) Well, it’d be really interesting to see if in, you know, a few years we’ve got Fuggle’s IPA . . . is just dominating the market, because of this.
DS: Fuggle’s – as many of you know – is a classic English hop. Meanwhile, in West Wales, another story was unfolding, the sounds of the pedigree Welsh pig. Meet the owner of these pigs.
ILLTUD DUNSFORD: I’m Illtud Dunsford and I’m the owner of Charcuterie Ltd.
DS: As we now know, the majority of people in Wales voted to leave the European Union. For Illtud, that came as a disappointment because the place where he lives, farmers and is building his business reveals a less familiar side of the EU story.
ID: The farm’s in the Gwendraeth Valley in West Wales, and we’re classed as an Objective 1 area, so it’s seen as one of the areas with the most poverty really, in Europe, and because of that, because of its classification as an Objective 1 area, we’ve had funding over the last few years to invigorate the area, both in terms of jobs but also in terms of community. We’re a post-industrial area, we’re right on the edge of the South Wales coalfield, very, very high levels of disability, very high levels of unemployment. It’s hard to run a specialist business in an area like this, but it’s the right place to do it because we have access to widespread agriculture, but without that funding we wouldn’t create jobs.
DS: Illtud’s business produces some of the finest cure meets in the country. And the EU funding he received – a grant of £120,000 – was to build a new processing facility and create new jobs. He’s done that. And those jobs were going to help him sell his products into Europe. That’s still his ambition, and so he is keen future negotiations with the EU are positive. But when he turned on the television last Tuesday, he had a bad feeling.
NIGEL FARAGE: I said I wanted to leave a campaign to get Britain to leave the European Union, you all laughed at me – well I have to say, you’re not laughing now, are you?
ID: (dry laugh) watching the response of the European Parliament to Nigel Farage, for somebody who wants to, or needs to have a good trade deal, that is not the way to approach it. Who is the person that’s going to be doing this negotiation? Because it has such wide-ranging impact on . . . on everything, all our lives. It’s just complete and utter uncertainty. We’re definitely on Plan B – Plan B, C, D . . . I guess it’s business as usual this, this week and for the next few weeks, er, while we, while we work out what the future holds. There was a great realisation a few years ago when one of our staff was talking about getting a mortgage, and . . . that was the key moment for me, that I realised how much responsibility I had as a business owner to my staff. And since last week, it’s been my responsibility to them that we continue, that we forget about growth, that we forget about expansion, that it’s about securing all our livelihoods. And it’s scary.
DS: From West Wales, to a hotel lobby near Victoria train station in London. I’d arranged to meet someone who’s been researching the implications of Brexit for the past two years, Professor Tim Lang of City University Centre for Food Policy. Inside the hotel tourists were arriving, all were glued to television screens.
TOURIST: Scary, yeah it’s just scary.
TOURIST 2: Yeah.
T: What’s going to happen to everyone. The, the whole economy in the world.
T2: Yeah, how it’s going to bring all others into a recession.
DS: Erm . . .
T: Is there a plan in place?
DS: Is there a plan in place? No, says Tim Lang, who is clearly having a bad week. Because when it comes to food, having no plan translates as ‘we have a serious problem.’
PROFESSOR TIM LANG: I think it’s deeply troubling time (sic). Our Centre wrote for briefing papers preparing for this, and the analysis we gave was very sober, saying this is an enormous impact on the food system if we choose to do it. We’re now in that reality. And what worries me mostly is that the political class is currently failing us.
DS: The analysis Tim Lang mentioned consists of four research papers, covering a range of different aspects of the UK’s food system. The Common Agricultural Policy and other EU food policies are far from perfect, he says, but his team’s conclusion was that they have helped to keep food prices relatively stable.
TL: We then did a study looking at the big picture, of Brexit versus Bremain, and that made us even more concerned. We thought the enormity of this really is not featuring in the debate. Why? Why? This is food. This is what was one of the main motivations for the creation of the common market in the first place. The Netherlands have had a famine in 1944, Europe had been devastated. And then we did two other studies, one on horticulture in particular, because Britain is highly exposed, we get . . . huge amount, big percentage of our horticulture, fruit and vegetable, from the European Union. So, to summarise all of those papers, we concluded we could vote to leave and indeed we did, but if the people chose it a period of major reorganisation was needed. And that was our final point. We didn’t think the British state was ready for it, and what we’re seeing now in politics is a sign that we were absolutely right. There is very little civil service expertise, the politicians haven’t thought about it, there’s no Plan B. The secretary of state even gave a speech in January saying there is no Plan B. I mean, I nearly tore what her I’ve got left out of my head. There should be Plan B, there should be Plan C, D, E and everything. So dear British consumer, think very carefully about this.
DS: Those consumers will have been reading Tim – and this comes from you – history suggests that a country which only just feeds itself is in a potentially fragile state. Now, aren’t you overstating it?
TL: No, I’m quoting government figures. 54% of our food is home-grown, about 30% comes from the rest of the European Union, and the rest comes from around the world, coffee or tea for example. And when we look at the figures, the food trade gap is now £21 billion in deficit, so we think that’s, by any definition, fragile situation to be in.
DS: On my phone, I have a question that’s come in from a Food Programme listener, I’ll just play you this and see if you can provide an answer.
ANGELA FIELD: My name is Angela Field, and I wanted to know, as a result of Brexit, should we expect the price of imported foods to rise, and should we be looking to buy more from local producers and UK producers?
TL: That’s a really good question, Angela. One of the things on which there was absolute agreement among academics who looked was that food prices are highly likely to go up, because the pound, everyone agreed, and indeed it has now, would go down. Therefore imports will cost more. Is that, the second part of your question, therefore a trigger that Britain produces more of its own? In the long term, yes. But who’s going to grow this? We rely upon foreign labour to produce the food, to grow it and to process it in the factories. And as I’ve said in a Tweet, you know, those who voted for Brexit, are they now prepared to go and work picking Brussels sprouts and cabbage us, and lifting potatoes in Lincolnshire where I’m from? Do they really want to do that? I don’t see any sign of them wanting to do that? Actually it’s eastern Europeans who are prepared to do it. Come on, let’s get clear guys, this is, call it time here. Do you want food from Britain? In which case you’ve got to get going and doing it or not.
DS: Another point being made is that at this point in time we are still one of the wealthiest economies in the world, we can spend our way out of this. We can buy food on a global market post-Brexit?
TL: Mr Gove, in an interview with the BBC, at one point said one of the things that he wanted to leave the European Union for was to open up trade with the rest of the world. So we can (fragment of word, or word unclear) in a throwaway remark he said, ‘We can get cheaper food from Africa’ – I thought Africa had a problem and it needed to feed itself? Is that option really moral and justified? I don’t think so. It’s a fantasy of free trade – very strange politics.
DS: But not strange to people who spent much of their lives working hard to take the UK out of the EU.
TIM WORSTALL: My name’s Tim Worstall, I’m a senior fellow at the Adam Smith Institute in London.
DS: Which is a free market think tank and Tim Worstall was having a good week. For him, Brexit is mission accomplished.
TW: I have actually been writing about this and working towards it for the last two decades. Wonderful. Superb. First decent decision made in 20 years.
DS: And among the arguments Tim has put forward for Brexit, either as a former speechwriter for Nigel Farage, or in his role at the Adam Smith Institute, many revolve around food.
TW: I have a great interest in trade and food, obviously, is the most important thing that we human beings have traded over the millennia.
DS: When you envisaged this moment arriving, did you expect a period that we’re currently going through that is instability, uncertainty and a degree of panic?
TW: Yes. There will be a large number of headless chickens running around, and after a few weeks, a month or two, everyone will realise the sun still rises in the morning, but now we get to make our choices. That’s the only difference.
DS: On a Skype line from his home in Portugal, Tim Worstall predicted that when things do settle down we can all look forward to a stable, more secure and affordable food future.
TW: The bigger problem I think that people have got here is that they really just don’t quite understand how markets work. We do not buy food from the European continent because we are members of the European Union. It’s some farmer, it Georges or Jacques or Joaquim or somebody who sells something to Sainsbury’s, and why would that change just because we’ve changed the political arrangement? Whatever tariffs food faces after Brexit will be determined exactly by the British government. We get to decide what our import tariffs are. Why are we going to make the things we want to buy more expensive for ourselves? So, obviously, you know, we like buying continental food, great, we won’t have tariffs on continental food. What’s the difference?
DS: What would you say to people who point to the fact that we have some of the cheapest food in Europe, in fact, the proportion of the income that we spend on food has decreased.
TW: Yeah, well, I mean that’s, that’s just . . . part and parcel of getting richer. Food is what called a . . .
DS: (interrupting) But that, that has happened under EU membership.
TW: We have to pay quite large tariffs to import food from outside the European Union. I think it’s something like 30%-35% on sugar at the moment. Okay, so, we’re outside the European Union, we now decide that we want to buy sugar not from the European Union, we don’t have to charge ourselves 35% on importing sugar from Guadalupe or Martinique or wherever, we’re fifth, sixth, seventh, whatever it is, richest nation on the planet. Here in the UK, or you there in the UK, should be growing the high value stuff that Britain grows really well. I mean, our grass-fed beef, for example, is some of the best in the world. People line up to buy joints of it. But it’s simple stuff like turnips or wheat. Why should we even think about trying to grow it in the UK when there’s the vast steps of the Ukraine, or the American Midwest or the Canadians, at hundreds of dollars a ton, and ship it to us? Why would we bother to make this cheap stuff when we’re a high income, high cost nation.
DS: And his post-Brexit food vision isn’t based on some theoretical economic model, it actually exists. To find out more, over to Dave Harrison of Beef and Lamb New Zealand, the organisation that promotes the country’s meat exports around the world. He remembers the 1980s when the subsidy system came to an end.
DAVE HARRISON: About 40% of our farmers’ income was coming from subsidies back in those days. But the government had essentially run out of money, and so overnight it had to go. They were there one day and they weren’t there the next. It was a really difficult time for New Zealand. Once you’re not being paid to produce, which is what we were being paid to produce, and in those days we had 70 million sheep in New Zealand, and so now we have half that number of sheep, our farmers are focused on genetics, they’re focused on . . . you know, what you can do with feed on the farm. Back in those days when we had 70 million lambs they were . . . small, and there was a lot of sheep that people don’t want to buy, they don’t want a, like a small leg for a Sunday roast.
DS: And so the livestock and the food produced changed. And the country’s farmers were forced to rethink their business plans. But should we expect a future in which food production becomes simpler, more vibrant and free from unnecessary red tape? Well no, says journalist and food writer Rose Prince. She spent her week reflecting on a story she investigated 16 years ago.
ROSE PRINCE: In 2000, it became apparent that the small-scale abattoirs in Britain were closing down in huge numbers, which was a great problem for . . . farmers in areas where there was a long distance for their livestock to travel.
DS: In fact, between 1985 and today, the number of abattoirs declined from 1000 to fewer than 200. And for the most part this happened without any real scrutiny by journalists.
RP: It wasn’t seen as exactly a very sexy story for the newspapers. You had to fight to get this told, past your editor. The general consensus at the time, whenever you discuss donor’s regulations, that the fault was always Brussels and that Brussels were imposing all sorts of incredibly thick red tape all over the food industry and making it incredibly hard, particularly for the smaller producer, because, of course, regulations always cost the producer money to implement. So, everywhere I went, I’d hear ‘Oh, it’s Brussels, it’s Brussels’.
DS: But then, an opportunity came up to fully investigate the issue.
RP: There were two committees of enquiry at Westminster looking into the meat regulations at the time. I worked on one of them, as a committee member. I learned from this information-gathering on the inquiry that it’s not always Brussels, and that very often it is up to the government of whichever member state to interpret rules. And the real problem is that I think our Ministry interpreted the rules in a way that was so own arrests to the producers, it was almost hostile.
DS: The decline in abattoirs accelerated in the years that followed the outbreak of BSE. And so a heavy-handed approach by government might come as no surprise. But, for Rose Prince, the media’s handling of the story was shocking.
ROSE PRINCE: There was a willingness to believe that it is all the fault of Brussels. We would be reading stories about straight bananas and people absolutely loved to believe all of that. When it came to more difficult subjects like the meat industry, if you went to an editor and said, ‘I really need to tell you that this actually not the case, and it’s our government to have the problem’ they weren’t that willing to go along with that. And I mean, this is where it’s been for absolutely years. And is even now.
DS: We’re quickly learning that the Brexit story, including its impact on food will take years, and more likely, generations to unfold. But things are moving fast, and the head of the Cabinet Office, Oliver Letwin, is now leading a team that will shape future negotiations with the EU. Our food future has to be treated as a top priority, argues Professor Tim Lang.
TL: In Mr Letwin’s new unit, which Prime Minister Cameron has said he’s setting up, there needs to be a big bunch of food specialists in there, or else people like me are very worried, indeed. Why? Because food security matters. Food has a great capacity to create riots. Food ought to be for health, for biodiversity, for good things in life, all the things the Food Programme has celebrated since Derek Cooper started it. We want to maintain that, but we’re now in tricky waters. Food has got to be in those negotiations, we’ve got to have specialists brought back out of retirement, because DEFRA has sacked huge swathes of its workforce, and we’ve got to make sure that the public health and environmental interests, and consumer interests are right in the centre of those we negotiations.
DS: Finally, for people listening to this, saying Professor Tim Lang, please say something positive, what would you say to them?
TL: I think this is potentially the most exciting and interesting time for food democracy in Britain, and I don’t say that lightly. These are times – so why do I think this is exciting? Because in Britain we have an extraordinary food movement, there has been a renaissance over the last 30 years of food thinking, experimentation, and we see this in the generation gap – why have young people voted so strongly for Europe? Because they’re Europeans in their food culture. So I think there is an opportunity for progressive food movements to come forward and say we want a good food system for Britain. If the political classes can’t deliver that, well we have to push it onto them.
DS: Professor Tim Lang, in the podcast edition of this programme, you can hear more on the unfolding story of Brexit and our future food. Including Rose Prince’s take on why we should pay attention to something that at first glance might appear trivial – the 73 British foods that come under the EU’s Protected Name Scheme, from Stilton cheese to Yorkshire rhubarb, Scotch beef to Welsh lamb.
RP: If we, through leaving Europe, lose the right to participate in the Protected Food schemes, it will be a tragedy. It’s good for our industry.
DS: And you’ll also hear from chef Angela Hartnett, and reactions to the Brexit vote from inside the restaurant world – a UK industry with a workforce of more than 600,000 people.
ANGELA HARTNETT: The one thing that comes through more than anything in the restaurant industry is movement of people. My restaurant, 70% are Europeans – easily.
DS: That’s all in this week’s special edition of the Food Programme’s podcast, and we will of course be following events and bringing you up to speed as this story unfolds. For now, I hope the next time we ask ‘how has your week been?’ the answer is a positive one.
Photo by GinkgoTelegraph