Thousands more people living in Britain are at risk of dying from heart attacks and strokes in the decade after Britain leaves the European Union as the cost of imported fruit and vegetables soars, new research warned Tuesday.
Britain is due to exit the EU on March 29 and it is far from certain what sort of deal -- if any -- Prime Minister Theresa May will be able to strike and what effect that may have on trade.
It is heavily reliant on food imports, particularly fruit and vegetables, and research published in the journal BMJ Open forecasts a widespread fall in consumption under all Brexit scenarios -- as well as a concomitant long-term health risk.
In the event of a no-deal Brexit, in which Britain crashes out of the union with no agreement on future trading ties, scientists from London's Imperial College predicted as many as 12,400 additional cardiovascular deaths over the next 10 years in England.
"Under World Trade Organisation rules, the price of bananas would go up 17 percent, oranges by 14 percent and the fruits we import the most are obviously going to be the most sensitive in terms of price increases," said Christopher Millet, from Imperial's public health policy evaluation unit and lead study author.
"Under (no deal) we expect 12,400 extra deaths between 2021 and 2030 and even with a free trade arrangement we expect around 6,000 more combined stroke and heart attack deaths," he told AFP.
The British Heart Foundation says around 42,000 people die in Britain from cardiovascular diseases every year.
Fruits and vegetables contain vital nutrients from fibre, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, that successive trials have shown to aid health cardiovascular function.
In 2017 Britain imported 84 percent of all fruit and 48 percent of the vegetables it consumed. A large proportion of these came from EU nations -- such as citrus from Spain.
But even fruit imported from outside the EU could be disrupted as Britain would either need to adopt WTO rules or painstakingly conduct bi-lateral trade talks on a country-by-country basis -- potentially facing longer customs checks and heftier tariffs.
Millet and his team used the latest available WTO and British customs statistics and applied it to a food policy model that combines a wide range of dietary, economic and health data to predict the impact on fruit and veg consumption under four possible Brexit scenarios.
Even if Britain strikes a free trade agreement with the bloc and other countries outside Europe that have similar arrangements with the EU currently, fruit and vegetable consumption would fall at least three percent, they said.
"Real health consequence"
Under a no deal, that drop would be 11.4 for fruit and 9 percent for vegetables, potentially exposing tens of thousands of people to higher risk of dying from a stroke or heart attack.
"This is serious," Millet said. "British families are going to be paying more for fruits and vegetables across all trade options -- this is going to hit the pocket of the average British family and it has a real and important health consequence."
MPs are due to vote Tuesday on how to proceed with Brexit after May's initial deal with the EU was beaten down in parliament.
On Monday, Britain's top supermarket bosses urged lawmakers to avoid a no-deal departure or risk a drastic cut in food availability.
Millet said politicians ought to give more consideration to the health impacts of Brexit, and the future burden increased illness and death will have on the health service.
"The British public weren't necessarily aware that the price of bananas was going to increase to such an extent and what it would mean for the cost of daily living and the ability to ensure your child eats a healthy diet," he said.
"These are the real implications (of Brexit)."
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