On Thursday, the UK voted to leave the European Union. Now – as the dust settles – is the moment to pause and reflect on the effect of this historic choice on the future of our food and farming.

As politicians assess the UK’s options over the coming months, there has arguably never been a time when ethical concerns have been more urgently needed – both in our food system and in society as a whole. Thinking through our values as a country, and the consequences of our actions, need to be in the forefront of our mind as we shape our future.

It is undeniable that leaving the EU will have a profound effect on how we grow and buy our food. Prices may go up or down. Foodstuffs may come from further away or nearer to home. Farmers may face further constraints or be freer to do what they do best. As yet, we do not know.

The next few months and years – as politicians negotiate the terms of our divorce, and businesses negotiate the new trade landscape – will be an opportunity for citizens to help shape the food system into one that provides good food, for all, forever.

Rather than being constrained by the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), now is a unique opportunity to create better food, farming and fisheries policies for the UK; ones that are fair for people, planet and animals. 

There was much in the CAP that worked – and much that didn’t. Let’s take the best of what we learned from Europe and build on it. We can protect and enhance our animal welfare standards; ensure that our farms are rewarded for giving nature a home; and protect agricultural workers. 

Dan Crossley, executive director of the Food Ethics Council says:

“The result of this historic vote could be a licence for deep division and ‘I told you so’ politics. Let’s avoid that and instead treat it as a once in a lifetime chance for citizens and politicians to co-create a food system that is healthy, sustainable and fair. 

“There will be pressure on our government to go in the opposite direction: a race to the bottom, where the only value is value for money. But we mustn’t let that happen. And we need to remember that if we want to continue to have access to EU markets for our agricultural goods, we’ll still have to abide by their rules.”

There is much to be discussed. In the rush for new regulation to replace so-called ‘EU red tape’, how can we ensure respect for fairness, wellbeing and freedom? How can environmental concerns and animal welfare standards be safeguarded? Who will harvest our food and what can be done to ensure they are treated fairly? How should UK farmers be supported, in the short and longer term? What does the future hold for agricultural research in the UK and what kind of research should public money be spent on?

These are fundamental questions, and we all need to be part of a national conversation that seeks to answer them.