Speciality cheeses could become an ‘occasional luxury’ after Brexit, warns dairy industry

PUBLISHED: 07:51 20 July 2018 | UPDATED: 07:51 20 July 2018

A cheese platter. Picture: Matthew Usher

A cheese platter. Picture: Matthew Usher

Archant © 2006

Everyday staples such as cheese, butter and yoghurt could become “occasional luxuries” unless the UK secures a favourable Brexit deal, the dairy industry warned.

Bungay dairy farmer and award-winning cheesemaker Jonny Crickmore.Bungay dairy farmer and award-winning cheesemaker Jonny Crickmore.

A study by the London School of Economics says while the government’s proposals to ease trade with Europe are yet to be agreed by the EU, a hard Brexit without a trade deal could leave consumers facing shortages and higher prices.

It says increased tariffs, border controls and customs delays would make it more difficult and expensive to import dairy products from Europe, particularly products like speciality cheeses, where domestic supply is constrained by limited production capacity.

Ash Amirahmadi, UK managing director of Arla Foods, the farmer-owned dairy co-operative which commissioned the research, said: “Our dependence on imported dairy products means that disruption to the supply chain will have a big impact.

“Most likely we would see shortages of products and a sharp rise in prices, turning every day staples, like butter, yoghurts, cheese and infant formula, into occasional luxuries. Speciality cheeses, where there are currently limited options for production, may become very scarce.”

But an award-winning East Anglian cheesemaker said there could be opportunities for British producers to fill the gap with home-grown products – while also allowing smaller farms to creating a valuable diversification which could support the profitability of their milk business.

Jonny Crickmore of Fen Farm Dairy in Bungay, said of the two million litres of milk produced annually by his 300-strong dairy herd, the 30pc which goes into cheese production accounts for about half the farm’s profits.

“If they are considering putting high taxes on luxury foods coming into the UK, for us that makes a massive difference,” he said. “There is a huge amount of cheese brought into the UK from France and all of a sudden instead you could have something made on your doorstep, and you are supporting a British farmer and the price is cheaper. It almost makes it a no-brainer as to which cheese you are going to buy. For us, it could be really good.

“The trouble is, there are not enough people like us out there to fulfil this demand. But I think it would be a good thing if it meant we give more and more small businesses a chance to get established.

“We have seen them (dairy farms) disappear in East Anglia in the last ten years. So will that turn around and we’ll see things come back? Rather than going the obvious route of producing more milk for a big company they could produce more products locally and cut down food miles – and that would be a really exciting place to be.”

This week the farm, which makes the award-winning Baron Bigod Suffolk brie, welcomed visitors including renowned Camembert makers from Normandy. Mr Crickmore said it was an indication of the respect which French cheesemakers have for British produce, and the potential for East Anglian cheese to match the quality of imports from across the Channel.

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