SCOTTISH researchers have warned that the UK could face a shortage of fruit and vegetables in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
According to Scotland’s Rural College, the Covid-19 pandemic has already led to disruptions in the food chain which have increased the cost of several fruit and vegetables – and changes in the country of origin of foods.
Future price increases could have a considerable effect on fruit and vegetable consumption in the UK, said the SRUC researchers, impacting on nutritional targets such as the advice to consume five-a-day – problems which would be exacerbated by the no-deal Brexit ‘looming on the horizon’,.
“Whilst Covid-19 has already had an impact on prices and imports, a no-deal Brexit may have far more severe effects on the food chain,” wrote Cesar Revoredo-Giha and Montserrat Costa-Font, from the College’s Food Marketing Research Team, who have compared the price of 20 fruits and vegetables between March and April this year, and with the same months last year and found significant price differences.
“There was a product specific price increase of some vegetables, such as tomatoes, onions and mushrooms, which are mainly sourced from the EU. When we look at fruits, oranges and pineapples are the fruits that have suffered the largest price increase,” they noted.
The researchers also looked at the origin of selected fruit and vegetables which have increased in price during the Covid-19 crisis, finding there was a reduction in the quantity of EU imports for all the vegetables and fruits compared to the same period in the three previous years.
“We can conclude that small disruptions in the food chain may exert a very important effect on the prices and the source of the fruits and vegetables consumed in the UK.”
While the focus of attention during the Covid-19 crisis has been on those products associated with panic buying such as dry pasta, canned food and toiletries, a no-deal Brexit could have a significant impact on fresh food imports reliant on ‘friction-free’ trade through the ports linking the UK and EU.
The UK imports more than half of the tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, mushrooms, peppers and lettuce it consumes, with between 75 to 100% of those products imported from the EU in 2019. The country is particularly dependent on the EU for imports of some fruits, such as apples, berries and pears, with other fruits imported from both the EU and non-EU countries.
The researchers continued: “The data indicate that disruptions in the fruit and vegetable supply chain may exert important effects on the price and potentially on their consumption in the UK. This can have important effects on the nutrition of the UK population – particularly for those with limited income – and improvements towards the five-a-day goal.
“We have shown that the Covid-19 has led to an increase in prices of imported fruits and vegetables; the effect of a non-deal Brexit may disrupt the fruit and vegetable supply through multiple ways,” they predicted.
“The most obvious one is the potential requirement to substitute our import sources. It should be noted this is not as trivial as picking a different stall in the global market. It implies establishing relationships with reputable suppliers able to provide products of the same quality and at the best prices, not to mention the changes in the import regime, such as customs checks,” they concluded.