A coalition of leading food and farming organisations has called for ‘urgent and meaningful action’ from the Government to address the structural issues facing the industry and avert a deepening food supply chain crisis.
Ahead of a major food and farming summit today, featuring NPA chief executive Zoe Davies and NFU president Minette Batters among others, the organisations are calling on government to set out a positive food and farming policy that creates a resilient and sustainable supply chain to underpin domestic food security.
The event in London against a backdrop of the worst pig industry crisis in more than two decades as thousands of healthy pigs are culled on farm due to a shortage of labour in pork plants. At the same time, a shortage of seasonal workers has threatened to leave fruit and veg being unpicked in fields and there is a general shortage of lorry drivers affecting many parts of the food supply chain.
This is all resulting, in some cases, in a limited choice of products on supermarket shelves alongside a rise in imports due to domestic supply chain issues.
Adding to the mix, huge inflationary pressures have affected energy, feed and fertiliser prices, which, for the pig sector, have resulted in record costs of production, leaving many producers facing crippling losses.
Ahead of the summit, Mrs Batters accused the Government of ‘papering over the cracks’ and called for more longer-term commitment to backing the food industry.
“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,” she said.
“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.”
Dr Davies added: “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.”
Jayne Almond, director of policy and corporate affairs at 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.”
Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability, at the British Retail Consortium, 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, Arla Foods UK, 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. Collaboration between government, the industry and farmers is the only way to address this for the long-term.”
Bob Carnell, chief executive of ABP UK said: “The UK is one of the most environmentally competitive beef producers globally. We have the opportunity to further enhance this position and become a global leader through improved use of data and technology at farm level and adopting a whole farm approach to sustainable beef production.
“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.”