Research Press Release

Economics: Dietary health in the UK could suffer under new Brexit trade agreements

Nature Food

June 29, 2021

Trade deals arising from Brexit-related negotiations may compromise dietary health in the UK, suggests a paper published in Nature Food. These risks, however, could be mitigated with subsidy reform, nutrition policy and trade agreements that advocate healthy eating.

Almost half of the food consumed in the UK — including more than three quarters of fruits and vegetables — is imported, meaning that the UK’s food system will be greatly affected by the ongoing trade talks that are taking place between the UK and other trading partners. Trade agreements can improve access to nutritious food and increase the diversity of food supply. However, such agreements can also lead to disproportionately large increases in the import and domestic production of unhealthy and highly processed foods that are calorie-rich and nutrient-poor. This can have diet-related health implications for conditions such as cancer and coronary heart disease.

Marco Springmann and Florian Freund used integrated health–economic modelling to predict how dietary health in the UK would be impacted by different types of trade deals. Free-trade deals with the US and Commonwealth countries could triple the negative health impacts of Brexit through greater availability of high-energy foods, leading to increased weight-related risks. Increased costs for health-promoting and import-dependent foods — such as fruits and vegetables — as a result of Brexit could lead to their reduced consumption and consequently, increased diet-related mortality. However, removing tariffs on horticultural imports and reforming the UK’s agricultural subsidies to support domestic production of fruits, vegetables, legumes and nuts, could mitigate these negative effects.

These findings provide an important opportunity for the UK to develop nutrition-sensitive trade policy and subsidy reforms to improve dietary health, at a crucial time when trade talks are ongoing.


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