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Cash-strapped shoppers will be hit hardest if the government fails to implement an urgent agricultural plan for Brexit, a leading academic has warned.

Food available to poorer consumers would become “significantly scarcer, more expensive and less healthy” without a good agreement with the EU on future trade, according to food policy specialist Professor Erik Millstone of the University of Sussex.

With no clarity “whatsoever” from the government on its post-Brexit agriculture policy, the UK was most likely facing “increased price volatility and a steep increase in prices”, he warned.

“The amount of food available will diminish, it will probably be produced and transported in less sustainable ways, it could be less safe and it will be less equitable in that it will be the poorest people that will be hardest hit.”

His comments come as a study, by Professor Millstone, Professor Tim Lang of London’s City University and Professor Terry Marsden of Cardiff University warned the UK is totally unprepared for “the most complex ever change” to its food supply system.

Consumers were “not really paying attention to this issue”, added food & drink solicitor Mark Jones. “But they will soon enough. We spend around 9% of our income on food - if that goes up to 15%, similar to Japan (14%), we will spend an extra £1,648 on food a year. That figure is huge for all of us but the ‘JAMs’, who the Conservatives talk about so frequently, will find that additional expenditure unbearable.”