Consumer choice alone should not determine food quality post-Brexit

Food standards in post-Brexit Britain should not be determined by consumer choice alone, economists at SRUC have warned.

In a blog published by the London School of Economics and Political Science, Dr Cesar Revoredo-Giha and Dr Montserrat Costa-Font looked at post-Brexit food policy discussions, where the focus has moved from food quantity to quality.

They said while food quantity is a tangible concept, food quality is more complex, comprising issues such as safety, ethics and nutrition.

Various studies have found that UK consumers have clear preferences about food standards, with many expressing concerns about chlorinated chicken, the use of hormones in beef and dairy cattle, pesticides in corn production and additives in pig feed.

However, while this suggests it would be possible to leave food quality standards to market choice, the researchers wrote: “There are at least three unintended consequences of a free choice scenario on the capacity to discern high-quality food: one is their preferences, second is how they make their food decisions, and the third is the information that they are provided.”

In terms of preferences, consumers are segmented between those interested in lower prices and those looking for foods which take account of attributes such as animal welfare, environmental sustainability or health benefits.

When it comes to food choice, consumers make up to 200 decisions a day and are unlikely they give much time and effort to those regarding small budget items such as food or consumer packaged goods – meaning “choices are not always likely to reflect food quality judgements”.

With regards to information provided to customers, this includes mandatory information included on food and drink products such as the list of ingredients and ‘best before’ date, labels on organic products which currently follow EU legislation, and additional information provided by private certification schemes such as the RSPCA.

The economists said without researching the information behind these labels, consumers may not understand what they mean – or remember it further down the line.

They wrote: “Brexit will probably bring changes to how we import and where we import from.

“Although many aspects of the new system are still under discussion, and given that UK consumers expect the same high food standards after Brexit, there are good reasons to believe that food standards cannot be left to the market and a call for a strong intervention to counteract consumer judgement limitation, limited cognitive effort in making food choices and their poor information awareness.

“In other words, food quality is too important to be left only to consumer choice.”

Posted by SRUC on 30/11/2020

Tags: Brexit, Food and Drink, Economy
Categories: Natural Economy | Consulting and Commercial