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What does the public really think about the impact of Brexit on UK’s food system?

The UK’s departure from the European Union on 29 March 2019 is fast approaching and negotiations are underway. But what will the UK’s food system look like after exiting the EU?

Food deals have been described as ‘the forgotten bread and butter issues of Brexit’. This week, new Populus research reveals a divided public when it comes to the future of the UK’s food system. It highlights a stark generational split, with young people fearing the possible impacts of Brexit on the fairness of our food system more than older generations.

Populus research conducted on behalf of the Food Ethics Council explores public views on whether the food system was ‘fair’ to people in the UK, to those working in food and farming in the UK and in developing countries, to the natural environment and to farm animals.

Key findings from the research:

  • 54% of respondents believe that the food system is ‘fair’ to the UK population.
  • 45% of those surveyed believe that the food system is ‘unfair’ to people working in food and farming in developing countries.
  • 55% of respondents 16 to 24-year-olds believe that the food system is ‘unfair’ to farm animals, compared to 32% of over 65s and 35% of 55 to 64-year-olds.
  • 32% of 16 to 24-year-olds think the food system will be ‘less fair’ to the UK population after Brexit, compared to just 16% of over 65s.
  • 31% of 16 to 24-year-olds and 31% of 25 to 34-year-olds believe that the UK food system will be ‘less fair’ to farm animals after Brexit, compared to just 13% of those over 65.
  • 28% of 16 to 24-year-olds and 29% of 25 to 34-year-olds believe that the UK food system will be ‘less fair’ to the natural environment after Brexit, compared to 14% of those over 65.

The environmental generation gap

The research shows that younger people are more likely than older people to believe that the UK food system will be ‘less fair’ to the natural environment, farm animals and the UK population after Brexit.  For younger generations, farm animal welfare and the natural environment are key concerns;

  • 55% of 16 to 24-year-olds surveyed believe that the food system is ‘unfair’ to farm animals, compared to just 32% of over 65s,
  • 46% of 16 to 24-year-olds say it is ‘unfair’ to the natural environment – for those aged 55 to 64 and the over 65s this figure falls to 28%.

Dan Crossley, Executive Director of the Food Ethics Council said:

“This survey shows that younger generations are particularly concerned by unfairness in our food system. The UK Government needs to do more to protect the food system that young people – and their future children and grandchildren – will inherit. Much as we have seen the introduction of the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act in Wales, we need stronger mechanisms in place in Westminster that take into account the needs of future generations when it comes to food.”

Attitudes across the political spectrum

The research arrives at a crucial time. PM Theresa May’s EU (Withdrawal) Bill has now cleared parliament, following assurances for would-be Tory rebel MPs, that they would have a meaningful say.

Research conducted last year finds that 85% of Conservative voters report they want to strengthen or maintain EU environmental regulations restricting the use of pesticides and fertilisers in agriculture, while 63% support a ban on the production of GM crops

The Food Ethics Council believes that a fair food system in the UK must not only provide nutritious and safe food for the whole UK population. It must also be fair to all those producing our food, to farm animals and to the planet.

Read more about the Food Ethics Council’s latest research exploring public views on the impact of Brexit on the UK’s food system here.

View Full Data Tables here

Methodology

Populus conducted 2,131 online interviews with a nationally representative sample of UK respondents aged 16+. Interviews took place between the 18th and 20th May 2018.

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