Food industry warns Gove on Brexit 'crisis'
The UK food industry has threatened to suspend it cooperation with government policy consultations, until the "catastrophic impact" of a no-deal Brexit is resolved.
The warning came in a letter to Environment Secretary Michael Gove from the heads of more than 30 trade associations, in which they argue that their focus on mitigating the potential consequences of a hard Brexit means they have insufficient resources to address other policy issues.
The letter, which has been signed by the heads of organisations including the Food and Drink Federation, National Farmers' Union and UK Hospitality, urges the government to halt the publication of proposals on range of current and planned industry consultations such as those relating additional curbs on the advertising of sugary foods until the Brexit uncertainty is over.
The food industry executives said the focus on Brexit meant that "at this moment of potential crisis for our industry, it cannot be 'business as usual' within government".
"Neither we nor our members have the physical resources nor organisational bandwidth to engage with and properly respond to non-Brexit related policy consultations or initiatives at this time.
"Government has recruited many extra staff; we cannot."
They demand that Mr Gove and his colleagues suspend "current and planned consultations that will impact food and drink... until this uncertainty is over".
"If government seeks to press ahead with these consultations it will be seen by some as a sign of bad faith and many organisations may decline to respond," it warned.
The letter underlines the sense of frustration in the private sector
"Businesses throughout the UK food chain - and their trade associations - are now totally focused on working to mitigate the catastrophic impact of a no-deal Brexit," says the letter, which was sent last Friday.
"Large amounts of time, money, people and effort are being diverted to that end."
Among the expected consultations that food and drink sector bosses want to be delayed, and referred to in the letter, are a deposit return scheme for England and Wales; a consistent national recycling collection service; proposals for a tax on plastic items with less than 30% recycled content; and a national action plan on the sustainable use of pesticides.
The letter, first reported by Sky, highlights food industry chiefs' anger about the continued lack of clarity over the terms of the UK's departure from the EU.
The government said leaving the EU with a deal remained its "top priority".
"We are meeting weekly with representatives from our food and drink industry to help prepare for all scenarios," said a spokesperson for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
The full list of signatories to the latest plea to the Environment Secretary also comprises the heads of the Agricultural Industries Confederation; Association of Bakery Ingredient Manufacturers; Association of Cereal Food Manufacturers; Association of Labour Providers; British Coffee Association; British Food Importers and Distributors Association; British Frozen Food Federation; British Growers Association; British Meat Processors Association; British Poultry Association; British Specialist Nutrition Association; Council for Responsible Nutrition UK; Dairy UK; Federation of Bakers; Federation of Wholesale Distributors; Fresh Produce Consortium; Food and Drink Federation Scotland; Food and Drink Wales Industry Board; Health Food Manufacturers' Association; International Meat Trade Association; National Association of Cider Manufacturers; Northern Ireland Food and Drink Association; Packaging Federation; Potato Processors Association; Provision Trade Federation; Scotland Food and Drink; Seasoning and Spice Association; UK Flavour Association; and the UK Tea & Infusions Association.