Five-a-day eating targets for fruit and vegetables could become unaffordable for millions of low-income families as a result of Brexit-related food price rises, a report says.
The Food Foundation says that already-feeble consumption rates of healthy food in the UK could nosedive under Brexit because the triple impact of exchange rates, labour costs and tariffs could add up to £158 a year to the amount a family of four spends on fruit and vegetables.
The thinktank warns that the poorest families – which spend the biggest proportion of their household budget on food – will be hardest hit, and calls for an expanded healthy food voucher system to help boost household nutrition in deprived areas.
Attempts by the Department of Health to encourage people to eat more fruit and vegetables – a key strand of its strategy to reduce the burden on the NHS of diet-related illness, such as obesity – would be undermined by Brexit food price rises, the report adds.
“Inflation resulting from unfavourable exchange rates, the rising costs of seasonal labour and a heavy tariff bill resulting from a ‘no-deal Brexit’ scenario combine to mean that purchasing a variety of fruit and vegetables on a daily basis could become unaffordable for millions of British households,” it says.
Currently just 8% of children aged 11-18 achieve government targets of consuming five portions of fruit and vegetables a day. Just 27% of adults aged 10-64 reach the five-a-day benchmark, as do 35% of adults over the age of 64, the report says.
The warning comes amid rising concerns over the nutritional impact of austerity measures and welfare cuts on the poorest families.
The UK has the second highest rates of food insecurity in Europe, with about 4 million adults struggling to put healthy food on the table on a regular basis.
Earlier this year, Food Standards Agency (FSA) data showed that 17% of UK adults worried about food supplies running out before they had enough money to buy more, while 8% said they experienced hunger or went whole days without eating because of a lack of money.
Under a no-deal Brexit, the price of achieving five portions-a-day for a typical family of four would go up from £37.58 a week to £39.76 a week (from £1,954 a year to £2,067).
The cost for that family of consuming at least seven portions a day – as recommended by health experts – would be £2,894 a year. Meeting that target would account for almost half of the entire food budget of the poorest 10% of the population, the foundation says.
Eating at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day is associated with reduced risk of heart disease, stroke and cancer. In the UK, the poorest families are significantly more likely not to achieve the targets than wealthier households.
The foundation estimates that at least 33 of the UK’s 50 most popular fruit and vegetables would be directly affected by new trade rules with the EU. Almost half of all vegetables and 83% of fruit is imported, while homegrown produce is highly dependent on EU migrant labour.
Policy measures to increase production of homegrown fruit and vegetables such as apples, broccoli, cauliflower, mushrooms, spinach and tomatoes could ease the impact on UK household food budgets, it says.
It calls on 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.
Introducing guidance to ensure British-grown fruit and vegetables are prominent in meals served in schools, hospitals and jails.
“The government faces a clear choice to boost British harvests of fruit and veg or the NHS will reap the consequences,” said Anna Taylor, the chief executive officer of the Food Foundation.
Source: The Guardian