One of the biggest difficulties in trying to assess the likely impact of Britain leaving the European Union (EU) is that we don’t yet know what form “Brexit” will take.
What is not in doubt, however, is that no other sectors of our economy are likely to feel the consequences of the UK’s vote to leave the EU quite so keenly as agriculture, food and the environment.
Last year, UK farmers received £2.4 billion from the EU in direct subsidies, with a further £5.2 billion allocated to rural development. Over 50% of total farming income in the UK currently comes via subsidies from the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy. That incredible fact is in itself clear evidence that Britain’s agricultural sector is based upon an unsustainable footing, but those massive EU subsidies will need to be replaced post-Brexit or we will quickly see many British farmers going out of business, followed by the collapse of our agricultural industry.
Even without the uncertainty created by the prospect of Brexit the UK already has serious food security problems. We currently grow only around 54% of the food we consume. Three quarters of the shortfall is made up by food imported from the EU.
Currently, the rules surrounding our other food imports come under Free Trade Agreements negotiated by the EU. Post-Brexit these Free Trade Agreements will no longer be accessible to the UK. In their place, our trade with other countries would be subject to a series of bilateral agreements under the World Trade Organisation’s regulatory framework. Since the UK will not have anywhere near the combined economic negotiating strength of the 27 remaining countries of the EU, the cost of trading with other nations for our food imports under WTO regulations is certain to increase. This will mean the price of our food will rise, a predicament that will be exacerbated by continued post- Brexit weakness of the pound on international currency markets.
Then there is the issue of free movement of workers within the EU. There was clear disagreement about this even amongst those who campaigned for a “Leave” vote, some of whom were implacably opposed to the principle of free movement whilst others suggested that the UK would need to accept some form of free movement in order to be able to access the EU single market.
If the “Leave” hardliners have their way, and Britain chooses not to stay signed up to the EU free movement agreement, it would have further repercussions for the agricultural and food industries. Twenty five per cent of the workforce in these sectors is made up of workers from EU countries – low paid fruit and vegetable planters and pickers, and packers in factories. Where will their replacements be found?
When Britain first joined the EU it was known as the “Dirty Man of Europe” because of its shameful reputation as a polluting nation. Back then, raw sewage was routinely pumped into the sea around our coastline. Our coal-fired power stations caused environmental damage (in the form of “acid rain”) to forests across the rest of Europe. For many years the UK was the only EU country that failed to implement directives on nitrate pollution and pesticide controls in farming.
Whilst EU membership has gradually civilised and cleaned up the UK’s act, the simple truth is that in return we have been at best a half hearted, often resentful, EU partner nation. All too often during our 43 years as a member of the EU our governments have done their best to resist and water down agreed EU policy. We have a poor record of upholding the health, safety and welfare of our citizens and safeguarding the environment they live and work in. Now, as we face the prospect of losing the steadying hand of European long term cooperation, there is every reason to fear that the UK government will revert to type, cutting any legislative corners it can get away with.
For all its faults, the EU has had a positive impact on our lives. When it came to food and environmental policy it often filled in the gaps left by short-termist UK governments. It imposed restrictions on the growing of genetically modified organisms in member states. It brought in compulsory food labelling and nutritional information on processed foods, legislation on air quality and biodiversity, penalties for environmental damage caused by excessive use of pesticides and other chemicals on farms. It funded UK rural development and encouraged local food designation and identification.
As citizens, consumers, conservationists, public health and animal welfare campaigners, those of us grieving over the Brexit result must resolve to bridge the gap it will create. That means challenging, rigorously and fearlessly, any attempt by current and future UK governments to undermine the important safeguards that now protect our food, our environment and our health, benefits that membership of the EU has helped provide.
That’s enough ranting for now. On to the recipe.
This delicious vegan crumble recipe combines the complimentary flavours of cherry, pistachio and almonds. Cooking the fruit and the crumble separately ensures you don’t end up with overcooked fruit or soggy crumble.
Serve this dessert with vegan ice cream or vegan cream.
cherry, almond and pistachio crumble
750g cherries, stoned
75 ml maple syrup
2 star anise
1 tbsp kirsch
for the crumble topping
125 g almond kernels
125 g pistachio kernels
125 g rice flour
90 g maple syrup
90 g cold pressed organic coconut oil
1. Pre heat the oven to 170°C (325°F, gas mark 3).
2. For the crumble topping, place the almond and pistachio kernels in a food processor and pulse until roughly chopped.
3. Melt the coconut oil in a saucepan over a low heat. Place the rice flour, maple syrup, ground almonds and pistachios in a bowl and pour in the melted coconut oil. Mix to combine. Spread this evenly across a flat baking tray and place in the pre-heated oven for around 25 minutes, or until the crumble is an even golden brown colour. Check periodically, gently turning the crumble each time to ensure it is evenly cooked. Remove from the oven and set to one side.
4. For the filling, place the cherries, maple syrup and star anise in a pan over a low heat. Place a lid on the pan and cooke for 10 minutes, lifting the lid and stirring frequently. Remove from the heat, remove the star anise and stir in the kirsch.
5. To serve, gently warm the cherry compote mixture. Spoon it onto plates or bowls, topped with the crumble.