Brexit, Food & Sustainability.
July 23, 2017 9:02 PM   Subscribe

Jay Rayner: “Michael Gove asked me to a meeting to share my expertise. I declined. Instead, I’ve given him a piece of my mind.” turns out that Jay Rayner is not just an acerbic restaurant critic.
posted by lalochezia (17 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Michael Gove is a strange man.

But to me some of Rayner's views don't seem to stack up. He says food is too cheap, he blames supermarkets for forcing prices down, yet he's against Brexit partly because he thinks it will cause price inflation. Does he want prices up or not?

In fact, leaving the CAP, in itself, could only make prices fall. Rayner seems to think it means higher tariffs on food, but the EU is not going to tax its own food exports. In itself leaving means no more tariffs on food imports at all, from anywhere - unless the U.K. imposes its own. Prices would surely only go up if the UK, on leaving, chooses a tariff regime that protects British farmers even more than the EU system already does. But it sounds as if Rayner wants that, in the interests of food security - admittedly I'm not really clear what regime he is advocating.

(In fairness I don't know what regime the UK government, or the opposition, is proposing either. As I've said before, we still have no real idea what Brexit will involve. In several important respects the pig is still in the poke.)
posted by Segundus at 10:21 PM on July 23, 2017

Curious also that Rayner picks on pig meat and dairy; aren't those the recent cases where the UK was prevented from protecting its farmers by EU rules? If you want to be able to provide that kind of protection, you need Brexit - which might help explain why so many farmers were ready to vote for it.
posted by Segundus at 10:39 PM on July 23, 2017

But to me some of Rayner's views don't seem to stack up. He says food is too cheap, he blames supermarkets for forcing prices down, yet he's against Brexit partly because he thinks it will cause price inflation. Does he want prices up or not?

One reason that food prices in the UK are so (relatively) low is that farmers are heavily subsidized.
In fact, farmers in the UK make more money from subsidies than they make from producing food and most of those subsidies come from the EU.

Of course, that will end in 2019 when Britain has left the EU. This will likely lead to higher prices for home-grown food. And that does not even factor in the lack of farmhands, most of which are from other EU countries. Even if they are not kicked out, many will think twice about coming to the UK where they face increasing hostility and an uncertain future.

As for non-local food, I understand that with all those great trade deals lined up, Britain will be free to set tariffs on bananas etc. as low as they want, so potentially to zero.

And don't forget inflation. So far, the pound has dropped about 20% since 2015 against a basket of major currencies, which makes everything coming from outside the UK more expensive. It looks like this will continue post-Brexit.
posted by sour cream at 1:07 AM on July 24, 2017 [2 favorites]

I'm not sure I trust Jay Rayner's economic analysis much further than I can throw it (which, being merely an idea, I cannot throw very far at all). He seems to misunderstand very basic concepts: "The people who will suffer the most, of course, are those who already have the least. For them the buying of food will use up a massive proportion of their expendable income." I'm not sure what he thinks expendable income is, but income tied up in buying food is pretty much definitively not expendable or disposable.

I also have very little sympathy for a position arguing that food in Britain at present is too cheap, regardless of the reasoning behind that. I'm sure Rayner is looking at some agriculture investment bollocks or something to arrive at his conclusion - he's certainly not looking at wages or benefits.
posted by Dysk at 1:20 AM on July 24, 2017

Really? No sympathy for the small family-owned farm that cannot compete with the low prices of big agricultural conglomerates?
Because that is what "food is too cheap" really means. It means that those who cannot produce the food at such low prices will have to go out of business. Or be dependent on subsidies.
posted by sour cream at 1:44 AM on July 24, 2017 [3 favorites]

We have those subsidies in place, however. I have no issue with food being subsidised so that it is affordable for the poor. I am also not particularly emotionally invested in the small family farm - I don't much care if my bread is made with grain from a family farm or a from larger, more efficient scale of operation. I care if I can afford to eat.
posted by Dysk at 1:48 AM on July 24, 2017 [3 favorites]

Like, food prices going up meaningfully from where they are at present is preserving the way of life of some British farmers at the cost of the actual lives of those on the breadline - look at the rate of food bank usage at present already. And this is food being too cheap? I think survival is significantly higher priority than someone potentially losing the family farm.
posted by Dysk at 1:54 AM on July 24, 2017

No, this is not food being too cheap; this is people being too poor.
Note that these two problems are not mutually exclusive.

We have those subsidies in place, however.

Really? My understanding is that most of the subsidies come from the EU. (Interestingly, those profiting most from EU subsidies tended to be most in favor of Brexit.)
Is there already a decision on whether they will be replaced by UK subsidies once that stream of EU money goes away?
posted by sour cream at 2:01 AM on July 24, 2017 [2 favorites]

No, this is not food being too cheap; this is people being too poor.

So food - relative to incomes, wages, benefits - is too expensive.

Really? My understanding is that most of the subsidies come from the EU

Yes. We are currently in the EU. That hasn't actually changed yet. And thus, those subsidies are still in place. I'm not aware of anybody planning to replace them, but like I said - I would be in favour of food being subsidised if it means the poor can afford food. Which is at best barely the case at present.
posted by Dysk at 2:06 AM on July 24, 2017

It's quite possible it won't be honoured, or continued, but Michael Gove and the government have pledged to keep matching CAP subsidies until 2022 at least. Full speech:
But the two areas where the EU has most clearly failed to achieve its stated environmental goals are the Common Agricultural Policy and the Common Fisheries Policy.

Both have been reformed during their lives, and improvements have been made, but they are still not designed to put the environment first.

The Common Agricultural Policy rewards size of land-holding ahead of good environmental practice, all too often puts resources in the hands of the already wealthy rather than into the common good of our shared natural environment, and encourages patterns of land use which are wasteful of natural resources and often intrinsically poor value rather than encouraging imaginative and environmentally enriching alternatives...

This Government has pledged that when we leave the EU we will match the £3 billion that farmers currently receive in support from the CAP until 2022. And I want to ensure we go on generously supporting farmers for many more years to come. But that support can only be argued for against other competing public goods if the environmental benefits of that spending are clear.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 2:47 AM on July 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

The key is at the beginning - as the pound dips you are making more money selling your produce to the EU (assuming there is equality between import and export tarifs) than selling it local.

This goes on until the market levels up again and you get the same amount of money locally. Which basically means prices goes up.

I also see another danger, in Switzerland we have highly inflated prices - this is partly due to higher cost (wages are very high) but mostly to a practice called "swiss pricing".

Basically when you try to buy something from let's say Germany, the quote they will give you is invariably much higher than the quote that a Italian company would get.The (mostly EU) exporters know the money is in Switzerland and they all raise their prices when Switzerland is involved (citing paperwork, instability in CHF-EUR change, etc).

So if the UK is out of the EU, and voice goes around they really NEED to import (like switzerland) their food .... it does not take much for a "British pricing" to become common.

So what I think is that going Brexit will put UK in a even worse situation than CH (which at least has the bilateral almost-EU-but-really-only-99.9% agreement).
posted by elcapitano at 4:08 AM on July 24, 2017

So if the UK is out of the EU, and voice goes around they really NEED to import (like switzerland) their food .... it does not take much for a "British pricing" to become common.

But that's where, ideally, competition kicks in and the UK increases food imports from, say, the US, Australia and Latin America, in exchange for financial services.
posted by sour cream at 5:56 AM on July 24, 2017

That might attenuate the effect, but won't eliminate it - even in ideal spherical eco land.
posted by pompomtom at 6:28 AM on July 24, 2017

A lot of food imports from the US in particular would require a relaxation of a lot of current food safety rules (cf the whole chlorinated chicken thing that's being talked about at present). Not that the Tories are likely to shy away from any opportunity to deregulate (sorry, "cut red tape").
posted by Dysk at 3:47 PM on July 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

If Liam “Henhouse” Fox has anything to do with it, chlorinated chicken and hormone-laced beef will be the least of it. He is on record as having said that Britain should emulate India and China in eliminating safety regulations.
posted by acb at 4:03 PM on July 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

Lords Select Committee Report warns cheaper imports might bring lower welfare standards.

General report on Brexit and agriculture is a useful document.
posted by Segundus at 11:05 PM on July 24, 2017

Sorry not to go all Bill Hicks'e or Carlin'e or John Oliver in his Bugle days but - I say fuck british farmers. Seriously. Seriously. I know I know - a gross over-simplification but really - I am done with the poor farmers / risk of suicide thang - it is not backed up by facts at all. Of course some farmers kill themselves - but then again, come to think of it, I hear that some non-farmers do the same!

Farmers do extremely well out of the rest of us and are grossly subsidised for this. They happily and comfortably live off the backs of imported slave labour from generally Eastern Europe or Africa - outside of the sex trade, another hotbed of modern day form indentured slavery alive and kicking in Europe. They as a whole are a significant block to progressive values in this country! What could be a more pressing area for progressive reform than the ultimate, the King of it all, the starting point of inquality and class in this apparently 'United' Kingdom - land reform.

I for one welcome the just around the corner day of vertical farming and laboratory created meat. Halcyon days perhaps await us in the not too distant future. An ethical step in the right direction for a better world and one that I hope I am around to see it come to fruition.
posted by numberstation at 2:12 PM on July 25, 2017 [1 favorite]

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