UK food supplies could face impending rationing and panic buying, warns NFU
22 Feb 2023 --- The UK’s National Farmers Union (NFU) has alerted the British government that food supplies are under threat of “disaster,” with lax border controls, avian disease risks, mounting energy costs, post-Brexit volatility and labor shortages mounting on the industry. A variety of F&B products, mainly vegetables, may need rationing in the near future if current trends continue.
The union has called on policymakers to ramp up local production and prioritize environmental protection, which has already created food shortages throughout the country due to weather conditions in Europe and Africa.
Protective measures “must go hand in hand,” said Conservative UK farming minister Mark Spencer at the NFU’s national conference yesterday. He also pledged £168 million (US$203 million) in subsidies for food protection, animal welfare and technology development.
“Our grant schemes under the Farming Investment Fund will help us make capital investments in existing equipment, technology and infrastructure that you have told us you need,” he said.
“Whether that is direct drills, slurry solutions, mobile sheep handling systems, and tractor-mounted nitrogen sensors and develop new practical solutions and get them out onto farms where they can make a difference.” Remote monitoring will help farmers keep tabs on the welfare of their cattle and new robotics will help ensure vegetable harvests, he pledged.
Farmers “deserve better”
While UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was not present at the union’s conference, opposition Labour leader Keir Starmer made an address pledging higher support for British food production.
“The next Labour government will commit to this: 50% of all food purchased by the public sector will be food produced locally and sustainably. That is £1.2 billion (US$1.45 billion) of public money spent on quality food that is genuinely better for peoples’ health,” he said.
“Fifty percent is just the minimum. We will do everything to go beyond it. We will buy more cereals, more oilseed rape, more strawberries, more beef and more British apples.”
“Labour’s approach to trade will be very different – I can promise you that. We want to remove barriers to exporters, not put them up. We want to protect high British standards, not water them down. We are going to talk to our friends in the EU and we are going to seek a better trading relationship for British farming.”
Northern Ireland Protocol
Trading relationships with the EU are under intense scrutiny this week as Sunak is attempting to sell Brexit reforms on the Northern Ireland Protocol to the regional assembly government, which is gridlocked over implementing a border in the Irish Sea.
The border imposes checks on all imports destined for the Republic of Ireland, which could compromise aspects of the Good Friday Agreement, according to members of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).
Export changes could also greatly impact the UK’s food industry as Sunak wants to change tax legislation that currently imposes EU rules on Northern Irish businesses. Last year, the European Commission took legal action against the UK for breaking the protocol by delaying checks on agri-food products.
Negotiations on revisions to the protocol are ongoing this week and major food industry players, as well as the NFU, are waiting to see whether a deal is reached and exactly how it will impact the industry.
By Louis Gore-Langton
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