Food security expert claims government ‘in denial’ over shortages

27 February 2023, 08:06 | Updated: 27 February 2023, 10:04

Shortages on shelves are predicted to last several more weeks
Shortages on shelves are predicted to last several more weeks. Picture: Alamy
Guy Stewart

By Guy Stewart

A food security expert has told LBC the UK Government is in denial about national food shortages.

The Food and Farming Minister is meeting with supermarket bosses later today, amid purchase limits on items of fresh fruit and vegetables like tomatoes and peppers.

Mark Spencer is insisting the current shortage on these items is because of poor weather in North Africa and says there is no risk to our food supplies.

But Professor Chris Elliot OBE at Queen's University in Belfast claimed it is a myth to say the shortage will be over in a matter of weeks.

Read more: Eat turnips not tomatoes: Environment Secretary tells Brits facing veg shortage as she warns of month of bare shelves

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“This isn’t just a blip about tomatoes and fresh fruit and veg,” Professor Elliot said, “there are severe problems with supply of many types of foods coming into the UK, really highlighting how insecure the UK is in terms of its national food security.”

Professor Elliot said things are going to get shorter and there are going to be more gaps on our supermarket shelves.

The food trade expert thinks this is happening because the UK relies too heavily on imports but is now “bottom of the queue” when purchasing from abroad.

He added: “we’ve got a wonderful food industry in the UK which does an amazing job of sourcing foods, but they’re telling me it’s getting more and more difficult. We’re just not a preferred customer anymore.”

Meanwhile, a homeless charity which runs soup kitchens in Scotland said it also believed a national food shortage could be coming.

Homeless Project Scotland supports more than 100,000 people each year, serving thousands of hot meals every week.

The charity’s chairman, Colin McInnes, said the National Farmers Union is right that fruit and veg shortages are “just the tip of the iceberg”.

He said: “We’re going into shops and seeing that there’s no bread and no rolls, or a shortage of long-life milk, it’s right across the board.”

“Trying to get our hands on the number of eggs we need is extremely difficult. We’ve seen a humongous shortage in cheese sauce mix; we’ve had to take macaroni off the menu for the last three months.”

Homeless Project Scotland relies on supermarkets for its massive weekly shops, because wholesalers turn them away as a non-commercial buyer, Mr McInnes added.

A food company has stepped in to supply the team with the essentials for cooking like onions and carrots, but Mr McInnes said shortages over the last week have still had an impact.

“At our food bank we’d put fruit and veg for people to take away. That’s non-existent now cause there’s nothing to put there,” he added.

Food and Farming Minister Mark Spencer said: “The current situation – caused by recent poor weather in North Africa - shows how dependent we can be on certain trade routes for some types of food. I know families expect the fresh produce they need to be on the shelves when they go in for their weekly shop. That is why I am calling in supermarket chiefs to find out what they are doing to get shelves stocked again and to outline how we can avoid a repeat of this.

“As we do our shopping, we should all give our thanks to the UK’s tens of thousands of farmers and food producers for keeping us fed throughout the year and particularly showing their mettle keeping the nation going during the pandemic. “

A Scottish Government Spokesperson said: “We remain concerned about the production, supply and price of produce. Poor harvest conditions in Spain and North Africa have impacted on the volume of produce – particularly fresh fruit and vegetables such as tomatoes - that would normally be imported this winter.

“We understand that the current shortage of some specific produce is a temporary issue, and that some retailers have introduced a buying limit as a preventative measure to avoid bulk-buying, to ensure that customers can continue to get what they need. We are in regular contact with all of the main retailers and are monitoring the position closely. The Scottish Government is establishing a new Food Security Unit to analyse ongoing supply chain vulnerabilities and help to bolster industry confidence during these hugely challenging times.

“While Brexit continues to pose huge challenges to Scotland’s food and drink sector with the loss of free trade and new obstacles to trade creating impediments for the movement of goods, the Scottish Government remains committed to supporting food production in Scotland: our Vision for Agriculture has food production at its heart and makes clear our support for farmers and crofters in providing the country with healthy nutritious food, whilst also ensuring Scotland meets its world-leading climate and nature restoration outcomes.”

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