The food and drink industry has six, important weeks to make its case to whomever forms the next government. We must take our case to the political parties, to candidates and to consumers. When you meet a candidate you must challenge them on their plans for food and drink. Here’s what you should say.
Tell them the truth. UK food and drink is a vital national asset, economically and culturally. Food security is part of our national security; a government’s basic duty is to ensure its citizens have access to safe and nutritious food. Food and drink exports are a great success story and improvements in the productivity of our industry will have a significant impact on the performance of wider UK manufacturing. It’s not enough for the new government to just say that; they must demonstrate they understand it, appreciate it and value it.
Next week, FDF is publishing its election manifesto for food and drink manufacturing. We have made five requests.
First, we will continue to press for the best possible future relationship with the EU. That means zero tariff trade, with an equal emphasis on the elimination of non-tariff barriers. It means a seamless, frictionless border for Ireland. For food safety it means the preservation of regulatory equivalence wherever possible and a clear and predictable process for regulatory divergence, where the case for doing so is strong. It means clarity on a future migration policy that will allow food and drink access to the workers at all relevant skill levels. Finally, it means early clarity on the period immediately after April 2019 and a transition phase to avoid any ‘cliff edge’.
Secondly, we want a partnership with the new government to tackle obesity; voluntary approaches have been proven to work. Where the case for additional regulation is overwhelming, then it should be proportionate and evidence-based. We must look for a ‘whole diet’ solution, with an emphasis on energy and calorie intakes, which involves all partners including out of home and retailers. The effectiveness (or otherwise) of recently announced interventions such as the Soft Drinks Industry Levy and sugars reduction challenge must be fully assessed before other interventions are considered.
Thirdly, we must learn from countries like Ireland that have invested heavily in promoting food and drink exports. We need easier to access sector-specific support provided by a UK ‘Bord Bia’, promoting quality UK food and drink abroad.
Fourthly, we need a multi-layered industrial partnership with government. The Industrial Strategy offers an opportunity for a transitional ‘farm to fork’ approach to joined up policy.
Fifth and finally, the new global Britain outside the EU will need more than ever to invest in skills and training, at all levels and throughout careers.
The next six weeks offer an unparalleled moment to find out what our politicians think about food and drink. We have the chance to change minds and thinking. I urge you to join me and all of our FDF members in seizing the opportunity.
Ian Wright is director general of the Food and Drink Federation