Ahhh Brexit...how fondly we now remember the days of your unchallenged place at the head of the news schedules. Your unflinching devotion to cleaving the nation and disdain of nuanced argument... Now we have a pandemic to occupy our waking hours -  a bit like welcoming a broken leg as at least it takes your mind off your dislocated shoulder.

One of the major concerns of Brexit is food security. Below that cover-all term lie potential issues around continuity of supply, maintenance of safe standards and prevention of crime. This article in the i newspaper makes the link between a 1000% increase in the National Food Crime Unit budget over a five year period and a heightened risk of unsafe and fraudulent activity due to the UK's imminent departure from the EU. The article quotes a Freedom of Information source (who also provided the budget figures) as saying the increase will support “any risks or opportunities presented by the UK’s exit from the EU”.

Now, regardless of any personal emotions you may feel at the sound of Beethoven's 'Ode to Joy', implying that the increase in the NFCU budget is wholly Brexit-driven may leave the story incomplete. The budget figures are undoubtedly correct, and the 1000% increase over the period from 2016 to date can be simply proven. However, any seasoned (or even casual) food industry watcher would question how anyone could believe that a budget of £420k (the 2015/16 figure) would be sufficient to combat criminal activity which costs the UK approximately £12bn annually. 

The most recent budget figures provided suggest that the NFCU will be given around £5.7m in 2020/21. This feels, to a degree, like a re-balancing of resource following years of reduced spending in tackling food crime. In the mid-1980s there were around 40 Public Analyst labs in the UK supporting local Trading Standards Officers and EHOs. There are now only 8 PA labs remaining, while between 2010 and 2018 some Trading Standards budgets shrunk by up to 60%. 

This budgetary increase is not unrelated to Brexit - any true risk assessment of food supply and safety must provide for all the possible outcomes, and any uncertainty is sure to be exploited - but maybe it is also finally an acknowledgment that the perpetrators of food crime have had it too easy for too long and, for all of us, the potential cost of inaction is just too high.