chris elliott quote web

I still hope that the EU referendum result is a figment of my imagination, but as each day passes the horrible reality of what may happen becomes more and more real. All around the country, people, businesses and universities are all trying to work out what the implications are to their own lives and the functioning of their organisations.

By a very bad coincidence, I was in Brussels on the day the Brexit result was announced. I was representing the UK at a high-level meeting to discuss better integration of efforts across the EU to fight food fraud. The word ‘irony’ does not sufficiently cover this experience.

Europe has, without doubt, the safest food supply systems in the world. It’s my own belief that the BSE crisis of the 1980s was one of the greatest drivers for this. Individuals lost faith in their government’s ability to ensure our food was safe and thus lost trust in all things that governments claim to do for their citizens. This was not only the case in the UK but across Europe. So for about 30 years, the EU has developed the toughest and most robust food safety legislation, and the rest of the world struggles to meet our standards.

One ‘wise person’ said to me this week that we will now be able to check all the food that comes into the UK from Europe, which up to now was difficult to do due to the open market. “Absolutely,” I said, “I’m sure we will have an army of port health inspectors and environmental health officers to undertake this. Of course, we don’t currently due to all the cutbacks in public expenditure, but we will be so wealthy from all the billions we will save from being outside the EU.” It may be I was a little sarcastic.

It is my belief and hope that inside or outside the EU we will maintain the same degree of rigour in checking our food is safe and free from fraud. But like so many other issues around Brexit, we are jumping blindfolded by a Union Jack handkerchief into a shark-infested ocean.

I’ve already had a few suggestions from other universities that I move my entire research group to another part of Europe. Perhaps in the future I will be writing my piece for The Grocer from another location.

Professor Chris Elliott is director of the Institute of Food Safety at Queen’s University, Belfast