The supply chain crisis must be fixed urgently if the government is to ensure food security in the UK, a coalition of industry groups has warned.
Food and farming leaders warn that the sector has been hit by shortages of workers from seasonal fruit pickers to abattoir staff and lorry drivers, alongside inflation that has driven up the price of energy, feed and fertiliser.
The National Farmers’ Union (NFU), which has convened a summit of organisations to discuss food security on Tuesday, called for the government to make a serious commitment to at least keep Britain’s self sufficiency in food production at 60%, and create an environment to support businesses.
Organisations involved in the summit are also calling for action to solve labour shortages throughout the supply chain and ensure a level playing field between British produce and imports.
The president of the NFU, Minette Batters, said: “Britain’s farmers are world-leaders in producing climate-friendly food and, over the past 18 months, have been working hard to keep shelves and fridges full despite many being affected by severe supply chain issues, particularly worker shortages.
“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.”
She said a commitment to maintaining 60% self-sufficiency would be a start, and called for the government to help create an environment for farm and food businesses to thrive in the future.
The NFU said the summit took place at the end of a year that had seen a mass cull of healthy pigs, a shortage of seasonal workers that threatened fruit and veg being left unpicked in fields, a shortage of lorry drivers, a lack of produce on the shelves and a rise in imports due to supply chain issues.
Dr Zoe Davies, chief executive of the National Pig Association, said: “The UK pig sector is still in meltdown as worker shortages continue to impact our ability to process the number of pigs we already have on farms.
“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.”
Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability at the British Retail Consortium, said food retailers and producers were working hard to adapt to a post-Brexit world. But he urged: “The government needs a coherent food policy to maintain UK production, including a clear strategy for solving labour shortages throughout the supply chain.”
Bob Carnell, chief executive of ABP UK (Anglo Beef Processors), said: “To help deliver and give UK consumers and other markets access to the best beef in the world, we need to attract and retain more skilled workers from home and abroad and ensure a level playing field for quality British meat when compared to imports.”