Supply chain ‘needs to be fixed’ to avoid crisis warn food and farming businesses

A coalition of leading food and farming businesses has warned that the UK faces a deepening food supply chain crisis unless the government takes urgent action to fix the structural issues facing the industry.

The call came as the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) convened a summit of food organisations this week to help address food supply issues. It said the aim was to prompt the government to set out a positive food and farming policy that creates a resilient and sustainable supply chain to underpin domestic food security.

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 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 impacted 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.”

Batters added that maintaining self-sufficiency levels should be a vital government objective: “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.”

There have been issues throughout the pandemic including rising energy prices and worker shortages. These have combined to increase the pressures on the food industry. In what has been a particularly challenging year for the pig sector, 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 have been working particularly hard post-Brexit, especially in the battle to cope with staff shortages. He said: “The government needs a coherent food policy to maintain UK production, including a clear strategy for solving labour shortages throughout the supply chain. Food retailers and producers are working hard to adapt to a post-Brexit world, ensuring supply chains can continue to deliver quality and affordable food for everyone.”

Ash Amirahmadi, managing director of Arla Foods UK, warned that further pressure on the supply chain would result in price increases: “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. Collaboration between government, the industry and farmers is the only way to address this for the long-term.”

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