This year’s referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union will have “momentous significance” for the country’s food system, according to a new briefing paper published today by the Food Research Collaboration.

The report – called Food, the UK and the EU: Brexit or Bremain? – argues the country must “wake up to the enormity of unravelling 43 years of co-negotiated food legislation”.

According to the authors – Professor Tim Lang, of City University London, and Dr Victoria Schoen, of the FRC – both consumers and businesses will be affected by a vote to leave the EU and the vote will take focus away from the drive to get the UK food system to be more sustainable.

The authors argue that, if the country decided to leave, food imports will become more expensive. The report suggests prices would increase and there could be major disruptions to the finely tuned just-in-time supply chains on which the UK food system now depends.

With such prices increases for imported goods, it the authors say there could be consequences for the consumption of foods that the UK relies on EU nations to produce. F

For example, nearly 40% of the UK’s total food supply of fruit and vegetables comes from the EU, and nearly 55% of its supply of pigmeat.

Additionally, the authors highlight the potential health implications of Brexit, as diet now accounts for 10.8% of the nation’s total disease burden (compared with 10.7% for tobacco).

The authors also warn of a potential “food service and food factory crisis” if EU labour currently working in those industries lost their freedom of movement to be in the UK. Figures show EU employees make up more than a quarter of the food manufacturing workforce (26.9%) and a tenth of workers in food and beverage services (11.3%).

Professor Lang, director of the Centre for Food Policy at City University London, and Chair of the FRC, said: “The referendum will be a defining moment in UK food policy, with hugely important implications for both consumers and businesses.”

“The Brits need to stop joking about wine lakes, bent bananas and myths from the EU past, which have been sorted, and get real about security of food supply today and tomorrow.

“It is not simply a choice about farming – the decision will affect the entire UK food system and all of our daily lives. Food prices will almost certainly go up, affected by a weakened sterling.

The also raised concerns that the public has been “woefully ill-informed” on the subject by politicians.

“The UK should wake up to the enormity of unravelling 43 years of co-negotiated food legislation. If the country is to break away from four decades of hard-fought policy, we argue they should be provided with the facts.”

Dr Schoen, research fellow for the FRC, added: “Attention should remain on what matters most: how to shift a high carbon, wasteful and unhealthy food system at both EU and UK levels in a more sustainable direction. Brexit would not alter that challenge.

“A vast array of EU agreements, policies and standards now underpin UK food policy and a decision to leave would require us to re-inject these processes back into UK law.”