Food and farming groups have come together to urge the UK government to take “urgent and meaningful action to fix the structural issues facing the industry”.
The coalition is warning the UK faces a “deepening food supply chain crisis” and is calling on the Government to set out a “positive food and farming policy that creates a resilient and sustainable supply chain to underpin domestic food security”.
Their pleas coincide with the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) Food Security Summit, which takes place in London today (14 December).
The NFU said: “The summit takes place at the end of a year that saw the first ever mass cull of healthy pigs in the UK, a shortage of seasonal workers that threatened fruit and veg being left unpicked in fields, a shortage of lorry drivers, a limited choice of products on supermarket shelves and a rise in imports due to domestic supply chain issues. Alongside this, record inflationary pressures have affected energy, feed and fertiliser prices.”
NFU president Minette Batters added: “Government has tried to paper over the cracks with short-term fixes, but if we want to avoid this crisis continuing, long-term solutions are urgently needed to ensure a resilient supply chain that enables us to continue supplying everyone at home with fantastic produce, as well as leading on the global stage.
“A start would be a serious commitment from government to, at the very least, maintain Britain’s food production self-sufficiency level at 60% and helping to create an environment for farm and food businesses to thrive and compete in the coming years.”
Jayne Almond, director of policy and corporate affairs at food industry body the Food and Drink Federation, said: “Supply chain issues and rising costs are challenging manufacturers like never before. This important summit must consider how we can work together to support our producers and manufacturers, while ensuring UK shoppers continue to get the food and drink they want, at the right price.”
Dr Zoe Davies, chief executive of the National Pig Association, described the UK pig sector as being “in meltdown” because of worker shortages.
She said: “The entire food supply chain and government must pull together and resolve the backlog now or we will have no independent pig producers left. Already 60% of the pork eaten in the UK comes from the EU – it would be a travesty to see this figure increase as more healthy UK pigs are culled on farms and their meat wasted.”
Ash Amirahmadi, UK managing director of dairy heavyweight Arla Foods, called for “collaboration between government, the industry and farmers”.
He said: “The UK food and farming sector is experiencing shortages in a range of areas caused by local and global factors that are putting real pressure on the supply chain, increasing costs and, ultimately, prices. These strains are not going to go away as we work to become even more sustainable and compete for the best people to come into our industry.”
Just Food asked the government’s Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs for its comment on the food and farming groups’ concerns.
A government spokesperson said: “The government acted quickly to tackle the challenges to our supply chains, which have been brought on by global pressures including the pandemic and the international shortage of HGV drivers.
“This year we expanded the agricultural Seasonal Workers Pilot to 30,000 visas for workers from across the globe to come to the UK for up to six months, in addition to a range of other actions taken by government to ease supply chain pressures across UK sectors.”