Social Justice

Summer’s over but a no-deal Brexit will bring problems beyond holiday hunger

A forecast of food shortages mean some councils could have to scrap their nutritional standards for school meals

Free school meals

Last week Prime Minister Boris Johnson reassured the public that all was going to plan as the government prepares for a no-deal Brexit – just days after a leaked warning that major food shortages could be on the cards after October 31.

But the UK imports nearly 30 per cent of its food from the EU. And for families who rely on free school meals during term time – those who struggle to keep everyone fed during the holidays – Brexit threatens to take away even the basic safeguard of good school dinners.

In council Brexit planning papers leaked to the BBC, authorities across the UK said they could be forced to abandon their nutritional standards for school meals because getting hold of certain foods might be too difficult.

Some councils, like North Tyneside, said they might have to turn to more tinned and frozen food amid fears that fresh produce could be in short supply.

Hastings Borough Council even braced readers of its Brexit risk papers for the reintroduction of rationing. Bedford Borough Council advised that holding four to six weeks’ supply of non-perishables would be wise.

Experts at North Ayrshire Council pointed to the rising food prices as evidence of the negative impact Brexit would have on school meals, admitting that it “might need to amend school nutrition standards”. There is a risk suppliers will prioritise supermarkets, they said, creating shortages in public sector catering.

Andrew Selley is chief executive of Bidfood, one of the country’s biggest food suppliers to schools, hospitals and care homes. He said the company is having to organise its own preparations for a no-deal Brexit, including buying new warehouse space to store
in-demand goods.

The supplier is looking at building up stores of imports like pasta, tuna, tinned tomatoes, olive oil and rice, Selley said.

It’s true that many popular imports can’t be replaced with domestic equivalents, he added, saying: “Because of our changing tastes, unless we’re going to go back to a menu based on the 1700s, we are going to look at imported products and imported tastes and imported flavours.” He also warned that the government will have to invest more cash into free school meals.

But chair of the Local Government Association’s Brexit taskforce Kevin Bentley said councils are “as prepared as they can be” given the resource, information and advice gaps not being met by central government.

In England, food standards require that school meals include one or more wholegrain variety of starchy foods each week; at least one portion of both fruit and vegetables per day; at least three different fruits and three different vegetables each week; oily fish at least once every three weeks; and no snacks but nuts, seeds, fruit and vegetables. That could be a thing of the past if Boris Johnson drags the UK off the Brexit cliff-edge.

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