UK must be ‘sensible’ to avoid food shortages post-Brexit, Irish producer says

Irish firms say Britain could apply zero tariffs on food to keep low prices after exiting EU

UK politicians must begin making "sensible, practical decisions" if they want the British people to continue eating certain foods after Brexit, one of Ireland's biggest food producers and exporters said.

Paul Wilson, vice-chairman of Monaghan Mushrooms, Europe’s biggest mushroom producer which supplies half of all mushrooms consumed in the UK, said Britain imports half of all food products.

UK politicians will find a way to break the deadlock with the European Union over the deal to ensure a continued supply of food after Britain’s departure on March 29th, he said.

“If they wish to continue to consume the product, they will simply have to find some kind of solution. That applies to much more than mushrooms,” Mr Wilson told a conference on Brexit and the agrifood sector.


Agrifood producers at the conference at DCU's Brexit Institute expressed alarm at the political turmoil in London and spoke about the contingency measures being taken to cope with the UK crashing out without a deal.

"Common sense is often not that common," Mr Wilson told The Irish Times. "It is Westminster; that's the alarming bit, what is happening there and the sort of confusion and absolute lack of direction."

Stockpiled cheese

Ornua, owner of Kerrygold and the UK’s biggest-selling cheddar brand Pilgrims Choice, told the event it has stockpiled cheese in Britain to avoid Brexit-related delays at ports from March until maybe June.

Chief executive John Jordan said the UK may impose zero tariffs on food products post-Brexit to maintain the country’s low-price food because of the fears about food inflation and the impact on demand.

“It is hard to see British politicians signing up to something that would mean there would be very significant food inflation,” he said.

He that zero tariffs would increase competition for Irish producers from countries such as New Zealand.

Monaghan Mushrooms plans to ship 120,000kg of mushrooms grown every week in Northern Ireland to Britain in the event of a hard Brexit, though Mr Wilson warned that this would not meet the firm's existing UK supply which comes from Irish, British and Dutch farms.

“If there is a hard break with no planning, then the disruption is going to be very difficult to control,” he said.

The UK is a key export market for Monaghan Mushrooms, accounting for 60 per cent of its revenues. Some 90 per cent of Irish mushrooms are exported to the UK. Mushrooms are grown to order and, with an eight-day shelf life, cannot be stockpiled. They appear on shelves within 36 hours of being harvested.

Mr Wilson said he convinced big UK customers to accept sterling devaluations in customer deals in the year after the Brexit vote by warning: “You won’t have any mushrooms next week unless we start talking about currencies.”

“We were able to go to our customers, try to create a sense of panic and a sense of need because it [the pressure] was real,” he said.

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell is The Irish Times’s Public Affairs Editor and former Washington correspondent