UK’s spend on food crime rising due to Brexit, claim Lib Dems

The annual budget for the UK’s National Food Crime Unit has rocketed since it was set up five years ago, which the Liberal Democrat party claims is a direct result of Brexit.

The Lib Dems filed a freedom of information request to find out the budget increase at the NFCU, which showed it swelled from around £420,000 in 2015 – shortly after it was set up in response to the 2013 horsemeat scandal – to more than £5.7m in the current financial year.

Party MP and former leader Tim Farron warned the cost of Brexit is “increasingly clear” and urged Ministers to uphold high food safety standards and prevent the UK being “flooded with cheap imports that put our health at risk.”

The extra funding has come via the expanded Food Standards Agency budget, in order to facilitate NFCU readiness for “any risks or opportunities presented by the UK’s exit from the EU,” according to the report.

Last year, a report from the Chartered Institute of Procurement & Supply (CIPS) based on another freedom of information request found that there were 1,193 reports of food crime in the UK in 2018 – the highest level since the horsemeat scandal in 2013.

The Food Standards Agency – of which NFCU operates as a unit – cautioned however that drawing trends from the data could however be problematic as there has been growing awareness of the work of the NFCU which has led to an increasing reporting rate for food crime incidents.

“While it is right the government provides essential funding to tackle food crime, we cannot ignore the fact that the costs have gone up more than 1000 per cent as a result of Brexit,” said Farron.

"The true cost of falling out of the EU is increasingly clear. As ministers struggle to cut trade deals, we are set to lose access to many protections that will cost millions to replicate here in the UK,” he claimed.

A 2018 survey found that nearly three-quarters of consumers believed there was an ongoing issue with food fraud in the UK, with more than a quarter reporting they had experienced it first-hand.

The FSA maintains that the funding for the NFCU has been increased, along with the FSA’s entire budget, as part of the government’s preparations to leave the EU, but also followed a trajectory set out previously to expand the unit’s operations and "develop greater anti-fraud capability, including an in-house investigative capability."

It also says there is no evidence that the risk of food crime will increase now that the UK has left the EU and is in the final months of the transition period.

Farron insists that to “end the uncertainty and prevent soaring costs, the government must commit to upholding our high food safety standards, supporting British producers and ensuring our markets are not flooded with cheap imports that put our health at risk in the future.”

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