Some thirty industry organizations from the UK agricultural, horticultural and food industries have called on the government to review its food strategy in a document entitled “UK Food and Drink: Building a path to recovery”.
The corona crisis, they say, has shown systemic failures caused by a long-term lack of support for domestic food producers: while global chains and markets are vulnerable to disruption, self-sufficiency has declined in the UK. The group advocates increased exports (supported by a founding organization “UK Food and Drink” similar to the Irish Bord Bia and Scotland Food & Drink), import substitution, automation and up-skilling. According to them, this requires substantial investments in the own agricultural, processing and food service sectors in the short term. Crisis recovery should also focus on more sustainable and healthy consumption and a more proactive policy against food waste.
The UK food & drink sector is contributing £ 460 billion to the UK economy as a whole (“from farm to fork”). More than 4 million people are employed in this industry across the four countries of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. In addition to the food processing industry and agriculture, this also includes transport and logistics, (refrigerated) storage, the packaging sector, catering, catering / food service and retail. The entirety of these sectors is referred to in the document as the “eating ecosystem” by the trade associations. The sector organizations urge the government to view this ecosystem as a whole.
The corona crisis has put the ‘eating ecosystem’ in the UK to the test, for example with a massive increase in the demand for grocery delivery services, adapting workplaces in food processors to meet social distancing, streamlining the number of inventory units (SKUs) in (online) stores and a decrease in the availability of labour. In addition, closing the hospitality and food service sector has had a major impact on the supply chain. The corona crisis has also shown that global chains and markets are vulnerable to disruption. In addition, the self-sufficiency rate in the UK has fallen to around 60 percent (some say as much as 50 percent).
To ensure that the food & drink sector in the UK remains viable in the future, the group of industry organizations wants more focus from the government on the contribution of domestic production to food security. Earlier, the National Farmers’ Union, scientists at York University and the trigger of the revision of the National Food Strategy, among others, made the point that the self-sufficiency rate in the UK is too low. The York researchers argue that Covid-19 exposed the vulnerability of UK food supply chains, pointing to undercapacity for domestic production, Brexit-reinforced labour shortages, the just-in-time nature of chains and a lack of diversity in sourcing and supply routes (for example import of vegetables from almost only the Netherlands and Spain). The commitment to higher productivity on sustainable principles propagated by the business community and knowledge institutes is in line with the government’s course for post-Brexit agricultural policy and underlines the opportunities that exist for Dutch technology, knowledge and services.
The sector organizations want more exports, supported by a “UK Food and Drink” organization (comparable to the Irish Bord Bia and Scotland Food & Drink), import substitution, automation and up-skilling. To achieve this, the organizations have established 7 global objectives that should lead as a path to recovery to success in the “new normal”: