Food price rises caused by could make five-a-day fruit and vegetable eating targets unaffordable for millions of low-income families, a Food Foundation report has revealed.
The study says that consumption rates for healthy foods could tumble after Britain leaves the EU because of the “triple impact” of exchange rates, Labour costs and tariffs which could increase the amount a family of four spends on fruit and vegetables by up to £158 annually.
“Those on a low income, such as the 1 in 5 people earning below the Real Living Wage, will be impacted the most,” the think tank said, as it called for an expanded healthy food voucher system to boost nutrition in deprived areas.
Key statistics from the report:
* Brits could face increased fruit and vegetable bill of up to £158 a year for a family of four.
* Fruit and vegetables could amount to 46% of the food and drink budget of the poorest 10% of households.
* 16 of the UK’s 50 favourite fruit and vegetables could be grown more in the UK.
* Only 8% of children aged 11-18 years achieving 5 a Day.
“In a no-deal scenario, price rises would mean the poorest 10% of the population could spend half of their entire food and drink budget to meet current government guidance for fruit and veg. Low earning Brits already consume, on average, one portion less of fruit and veg each day, compared to more wealthy households but very few of us eat enough and treatment of diet-related disease is crippling the NHS.”
If Britain leaves the EU without a deal the prices of achieving five portions-a-day for a typical family of four would go up from £37.58 a week (£1,954 annually) to £39.76 a week (£2,067 annually), the foundation said. Achieving seven portions-a-day, as recommended by some health experts, would cost £2,894 a year.
Only 8% of children aged 11-18 achieve targets of eating five portions of fruit and vegetables a day. Just 27% of adults aged 10-64 reach the benchmark. The percentage increases to 35% for adults over the age of 64.
The Food Foundation claims that at least 33 of the UK’s top 50 fruit and vegetables, including melons, carrots, apples and lemons would be impacted by Brexit. British grown produce is highly dependent on EU migrant workers, while almost half of all vegetables and 83% of fruit is grown abroad.
It identified 16 varieties of fruit and veg that could be grown more in the UK, “meaning less reliance on imports and more competitive prices” and suggested actions which could be included in the Agriculture Bill to drive up supply and demand of British produce.
The Food Foundation wants the government to invest in horticultural production by:
* Putting in place measures to secure seasonal labour.
* Offering capital grants to farmers to expand production of key crops.
* Introduce guidance to ensure British-grown fruit and vegetables feature in meals served in schools, hospitals and jails.
Dr Hakim Yadi OBE, Chief Executive of the Northern Health Science Alliance said Brexit would only worsen the health disparities between the North and South of England, with Northerners already “a fifth more likely to die young than those in the South”.
“Earlier this month IPPR North showed the North is already likelier to get hit hardest by Brexit. The health implications of Brexit, such as possible price rises on food, are worrying, and unless something is done to protect against this and other impacts on the social determinants of health, it is likely that the North of England will again bear the brunt,” she said.
“The government faces a clear choice to boost British harvests of fruit and veg or the NHS will reap the consequences,” Anna Taylor, executive director of the Food Foundation, said.
“Five-a-day needs fresh ideas and an Agriculture Bill which increases supply and demand of British fruit and veg is a huge opportunity.
“It is absolutely crucial that the government grabs the bull by the horns before the Brexit boat sails.”
John Shropshire, Chairman of G’s Fresh, added: “British growers of fruit and veg are being squeezed by difficulties in securing labour and limited demand from British consumers. The Agriculture Bill provides an opportunity to boost the sector to deliver more for the economy and the health of the nation.”
The report divided fruit and vegetables into five categories:
* ‘Hardy Heroes’ - products which are almost all grown in the UK – but there are only three; parsnips, cabbage and carrots.
* Seven ‘Channel Hoppers’, which are grown in the UK for part of the year, but elsewhere in Europe at other times because of weather conditions. These are melons, Brussels sprouts and kale, celery, leeks, strawberries and raspberries.
* 11 ‘Brexit Boosters’ are grown in the UK but are also imported from Europe – there are tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, lettuce, mushrooms, peppers, spinach, courgettes, cherries, broccoli and cauliflower.
* 15 ‘EU Emigrants’ which the UK imports from the EU and the rest of the world – sweetcorn, garlic, pears, apples, spring onions, lemons, nectarines and peaches, plums, oranges and easy peelers, asparagus, grapes, beans and peas.
* Seven ‘Globe Trotters’ – grapefruit, pineapples, kiwis, mangoes, sweet potatoes, bananas and avocados – which are only imported from countries outside the EU.
Labour MP Kerry McCarthy said: “The Agricultural Bill is a major opportunity to help fruit and veg growers, as well as helping consumers to get their 5-a-day. The risks that the industry face are too huge to miss this vital moment.”
Only the prices of the ‘Globe Trotters’ are unlikely to change post-Brexit, the report found.