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Urgent Plea to Halt New Regulations Threatening UK Food Security and Inflation

British horticulture organisations are raising the alarm over hastily imposed regulations that could cripple the industry and disrupt food supply chains.

The new Sedex Members Ethical Trade Audit (Smeta) standards, due to take effect on 10th September, mandate that UK growers cover all recruitment fees for seasonal workers, including transport and visa costs.

Industry leaders, including the National Farmers Union (NFU), British Apples and Pears (BAPL), and British Berry Growers, are urgently calling for the suspension of Smeta 7.0 until a comprehensive consultation with the UK industry is conducted. They argue that the changes are unfair, premature, and lack proper assessment of their potential impact.

"These standards are aspirational, not required by national law, and they are being rushed through," says Ali Capper, BAPL executive chair. The potential consequences are dire: increased food prices, chaos in the fresh produce sector, and a significant threat to UK food security.

BAPL estimates that the new regulations could add 4-5p to the price of a pack of apples, a burden that will ultimately fall on consumers. The group is appealing to all UK retailers to agree that fresh produce growers should not be expected to comply with this section of the Smeta 7.0 audit until a Defra-funded impact assessment report is completed next year.

Grower groups emphasise that the new standards could undermine business confidence and exacerbate existing labour shortages, further jeopardising UK food production. They warn that the audit burden on growers is already substantial, and these new requirements will only add to their costs.

The British Retail Consortium (BRC) is investigating the issue, but with just eight weeks until the new standards are set to take effect, growers are growing increasingly anxious. Industry leaders are calling for either a delay in the implementation of the new rules or a clear statement from retailers that fresh produce suppliers are not required to comply with this part of the audit until the Defra feasibility study is completed.

The situation is critical, with the potential to impact food prices, availability, and the livelihoods of countless farmers and workers. The call for a pause and reconsideration of these regulations is a plea to protect the UK's food security and prevent further economic hardship.


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