A ‘no-deal’ Brexit could result in a 4% average increase in the cost of fruit and vegetables in the UK, according to the preliminary analysis of ongoing research.

Today (Thursday, December 3) The Food Foundation and SHEFS (Sustainable and Healthy Food Systems) released analysis on the likely impact of the UK's departure from the EU on fruit and vegetable prices in the UK.

The UK is highly reliant on fruit and vegetable imports, currently importing 65% of total UK supply. In the event of a no-deal, imports from the EU would automatically be subject to the new, higher UK general tariffs.

In addition, imports from non-EU countries may also be subject to increased tariffs. As a member of the EU, the UK benefitted from around 40 free trade agreements signed by the EU. The UK has so far signed bilateral deals replicating just over 20 of these agreements.

The analysis reports that if tariff increases are passed directly on to UK citizens, the average British family would pay 4% more for their fruit and vegetables, on top of prices for some products potentially rising by even more - for example, tomatoes could become 9% more expensive.

The analysis reports notes:

“For a family of four (two adults and two children), this would mean an increase of £25 to 28 a year (depending on the children’s age) to their fruit and vegetable bill.

If families increased their consumption to the recommended five-a-day, this would cost £65 per year more for a family of four under a no-deal scenario.

The report notes that the food industry “has been warning of the potential for additional costs and significant delays at UK borders”, such as customs and plant health checks; a lack of cold storage capacity in the UK; potential for shortages and concomitant food price rises.

These issues would particularly affect perishable food products, including fruit and vegetables.

Actual impact 'could be even larger'

Dr. Paraskevi Seferidi of the Imperial College London warned that the actual impact “could be even larger”.

“Extra costs that are not taken into account in our analysis, such as transaction costs due to border checks, could further exacerbate the estimated effect.”

Dr. Soledad Cuevas of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) added that this is the first time the newly-published UK general tariffs have been used to estimate the potential impact of Brexit on the cost of fruit and vegetable imports.

“Although it’s hard to know how much of these cost increases will be passed on to consumers, these preliminary results are worrying, both for consumers and for producers."

‘Strong case to invest in horticulture’

The analysis says that the UK produced 3.1 million tonnes of fruit and vegetables last year – a quarter of what the UK population needs to meet the NHS ‘Eatwell Guide’ recommendations.

“There is a strong case for the government to invest in horticulture to increase production of those fruits and veg that grow well here,” the report recommends.

“If accompanied by policies to drive up consumption, this would benefit our economy, our health, and increase the resilience of our fruit and veg supply chain to potential trade disruptions like that posed by a no-deal Brexit or climate shocks overseas.”