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U.K. Shoppers at Risk of Higher Grocery Bills If Nation Quits EU

  • Trade tariffs, labor supply uncertain if U.K. votes to leave
  • Consumers may face higher food prices, policy professor says

The U.K. food industry faces chaos and consumers higher prices if the country votes to leave the European Union, said Tim Lang, a professor at City University London’s Centre for Food Policy.

Britain imports at least 30 percent of its food, much from the EU, Lang said Monday at a conference on the effect of a “Brexit” on the industry. Europe is a major customer for British farming and it’s unclear what trade relationship the U.K. would have with the EU or whether tariffs would be imposed.

“In the short term, it would be chaos to leave,” Lang said in an interview. “A period of destabilization in the food supply chain will automatically mean food prices will at best go volatile, or at worst go up.”

The U.K. may have to renegotiate trade deals with countries around the world where the EU currently has preferential status, Alan Swinbank, an emeritus professor of agricultural economics at the University of Reading, said in a speech. It’s unclear whether farmers who get direct EU subsidies would get the same from the U.K., while horticulture and food-service industries face labor shortages with fewer migrant workers from Europe.

Prime Minister David Cameron has committed to holding a referendum on EU membership by the end of 2017 after seeking to renegotiate how the 28-nation bloc operates. U.K. policy makers on both sides of the issue need to outline clearer public plans for agriculture and food policy to prevent volatility in markets, Lang said.

“Brexit is highly risky for food,” he said. “It is urgent. Those who want to leave have got to say where they’re going to get the food from, not in 10 years time or in 20 years time, but the next week.”’

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