Sleepwalking into a perfect storm – MPs launch snap inquiry into impact of trade issues and labour shortages on food supply chain

The Environmental, Food and Rural Affairs Committee has launched a snap inquiry into the impacts of factors such as Brexit, COVID-19 and rising commodity prices on the food supply chain, as MPs warn the Government risks sleepwalking into a perfect storm.

The cross-party group of MPs is calling for evidence on the factors contributing to reports of shortages of food products and workers in key sectors, a steep decline in food exports to the EU, and the possibility of food price inflation ahead. It will consider the impact on competition, and examine the outlook for producers and consumers.

The Committee has also today published correspondence to Home Secretary Priti Patel MP, highlighting the Committee’s ‘deep concern’ about labour shortages currently affecting the food supply chain, and urgently requesting information about the action the Home Office is taking to address reports of shortages of overseas labour. The letter invites Ms Patel to give evidence to the Committee as part of the new inquiry.

Ahead of Great Britain introducing checks and controls on food, live animals and related imports from the EU, urgent questions remain unanswered regarding authorities’ and businesses’ readiness for new processes, the committee said.

EFRA chair, Neil Parish MP, said: “The end of the Brexit transition period and the ongoing pandemic have made 2021 a difficult year for the food supply industry. At present, shortages of key workers including HGV drivers are pushing businesses towards losses and causing issues for consumers, and, as we anticipate the implementation of new import checks, more problems loom over the horizon.

“The Government risks sleepwalking into a perfect storm if it fails to listen to the warning calls of supply chain professionals. There are growing concerns about our preparedness for the introduction of new checks on SPS imports from the EU and other challenges ahead, and the Committee is troubled by the reported further delays in their implementation.

“We want to understand the extent of the disruption to consumers, business owners and workers, and determine the best means to deal with them.”

The Committee is seeking answers to the following questions, with an initial deadline October 8:

1. What is the extent and nature of labour shortages currently being experienced in the food supply chain?

2. What are the factors driving labour shortages in the food supply chain?

3. What is the outlook for the labour shortage situation in the coming months and years?

4. What other issues are affecting the food supply chain?

5. What impact will the timetable for introducing physical checks at the border on food and live animal imports from the EU have on the current issues being experienced by the UK food supply chain?

6. What measures has the Government taken to alleviate the problems being faced by the food supply chain this year? To what extent have they been successful?

7. Does the Government need to take further steps to support the food supply chain?

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Editor of LBM titles Pig World and Farm Business and group editor of Agronomist and Arable Farmer. National Pig Association's webmaster. Previously political editor at Farmers Guardian for many years and also worked Farmers Weekly. Occasional farming media pundit. Brought up on a Leicestershire farm, now work from a shed in the garden in Oxfordshire. Big fan of Leicester City and Leicester Tigers. Occasional cricketer.