Brexit risks creating a two tier food system between rich and poor, with the less well-off forced to accept lower standards, a new report has warned.

Published by think-tank organisation, ResPublica, on behalf of the British Poultry Council, the 'Coming Home to Roost' report accuses the UK Government of having done little to prepare, or protect Britain’s £7.2billion poultry industry.

At present, the UK is the fourth-largest poultry meat producer in the EU, and it is about 60% self-sufficient. The carcase balance, or import-export balance, with the EU is an important issue with regard to Brexit. UK consumers prefer to eat breast meat, rather than dark cuts like wings, legs and thighs, which means that UK producers have to export surplus dark meat to maximise revenue.

The profitability of the sector therefore revolves around finding a market for 75% of the bird that is left over after removing the breasts. Approximately 70% of our dark meat exports are to the EU, and the majority of the poultry meat that is imported into the UK comes from the European Union.

ResPublica director Phillip Blond noted that a no-deal Brexit would severely damage this trade balance and inevitably increase the cost of domestic poultry meat.

“The UK could increasingly become a country divided by its consumption of food," he warned. "When the increased costs of production are passed on to consumers through higher prices, lower-income consumers may be left unable to afford fresh British chicken, instead having to rely on cheaper, lower standard meat imports from countries like Brazil and Thailand. This could create a two-tier food system, where only the wealthy can afford to eat fresh home-reared high standard chicken.”

He continued: “It is reported that senior Government advisors have made plans to ‘suspend food controls if there are any delays to imports of perishable foods at our borders’. This cannot be allowed to happen. The Government must work with policymakers to create a ‘clause’ that ensures all future imports meet UK standards.”

Of particular concern for the think-tank is what might happen to standards should the UK turn to non-EU countries for their poultry meat. They worry about chlorinated chicken from the US and inferior standards of production in other countries, which British consumers are unwilling to accept.

Report author Joe Cowen added: “Antibiotic use is endemic in Thailand, while Brazil, another major exporter of chicken has significantly lower standard than the UK. Recently we saw 20 factories shut down over night, due to poor practices. Crashing out of the EU without a deal, means we would lose much of the EU external infrastructure that allows us to monitor and inspect the food we eat and how it is prepared.

“While its possible to construct our own regulatory system, given the glacial pace of the Government around all elements of Brexit, it seems unlikely that this would happen before we are due to leave next March, exposing consumers to food produced to lower standards.”