Brexit: EU experts concerned over food safety, health and environment

Brexit: EU experts concerned over food safety, health and environment
Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Several European experts expressed their concerns over how Brexit may affect public health, food safety and environmental regulations if no adequate deal is reached before the end of the year.

Brexit negotiations with the EU have been slow, and following nine rounds of Brexit talks, little progress has been made in reaching a final agreement so far.

So far, regulations and policies on food safety, public health and the environment have not been aligned, which could result in economic difficulties and negative implications for the environment if both parties go their own separate ways.

“We will still need to prepare for either a deal or no deal,” said MEP Pascal Canfin (Renew Europe), Chair of the European Parliament's Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI), on Monday during a Brussels ENVI conference on Brexit.

“The topics of public health, food safety and environment, like air quality and carbon emissions, are of primary concern right now.”

In all three fields in the Brexit negotiations, the experts “are very worried for what we see happening on the side of the United Kingdom”,  head of EU policy and nature conservation organisation BirdLife Ariel Brenner stated.

“And it must be said that if future agreements are not respected, the EU will respond with thoughtful retaliation. We believe there is a very strong case for cooperation, but we need to be very careful about creating some last-minute dodgy deals in order to meet the deadline,” Brenner said.

European food safety and healthcare may be affected by Brexit

When it comes to food safety, the UK “strenuously opposes including food legislation in its post-Brexit agreement”, Professor of European Public Health at the the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine Martin McKee said.

If food legislation is not included in the Brexit agreement, EU citizens could be at risk of consuming food that has not been approved by EU food safety standards in the future (for example, in neighbouring Ireland).

If no deal is reached at all, European healthcare could be affected negatively as EU citizens may experience more difficulty in accessing “highly specialised healthcare” in the UK. “Which, I would suggest, is not good for anyone,” McKee added.

The UK might develop its own climate policies

The EU and the UK need to work hard to align their policies on environment, according to Professor of Politics at Sheffield University, Charlotte Burns.

“I am especially concerned over the weakening of environmental standards in the UK. Bills have been put on the table to lower emissions by 2030 and 2050, yet no policies have been put in place to reach those targets.”

The UK may drop its climate ambitions if no proper Brexit deal is reached, Professor of Law Veerle Heyvaert at the London School of Economics and Political Science added. “These are very concerning factors to take into account.”

“These are particularly short-term perils to be aware of. But is the UK willing to cooperate? We’ve gotten a lot of mixed signals, mostly negative signals. It’s rather difficult for us right now to gage how green the UK government actually is.”

EU Council will soon discuss 'all possible scenarios'

On 15 and 16 October, the European Council will review the state of the Brexit negotiations. At these meetings, the leaders of all Member States will discuss  “all [possible] scenarios after 1 January 2021”, when Brexit is finalised.

By 1 January 2021, the UK will leave the EU’s European Single Market and the European Customs Union. Currently, though the UK left the EU on 31 January 2020, it still functions as if it were a Member State when it comes to customs and tariffs as part of the Withdrawal Agreement.

Earlier this month, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that it was up to Europeans to “use common sense” in order to reach a post-Brexit agreement before 1 January, when the Withdrawal Agreement expires.

Amée Zoutberg

The Brussels Times

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