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

23 February 2023, 11:54 | Updated: 23 February 2023, 14:20

Therese Coffey said that vegetable shortages will possibly last up to a month for Brits
Therese Coffey said that vegetable shortages will possibly last up to a month for Brits. Picture: Alamy

By Chay Quinn

Eat turnips instead of tomatoes, Environment Secretary Thérèse Coffey has told Brits facing the vegetable shortage.

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Ms Coffey told MPs that ongoing shortages of produce will be a temporary issue that should be resolved in two to four weeks.

She added that the UK should "cherish the specialisms" it has and a "lot of people would be eating turnips right now" under a seasonal food model - rather than thinking about lettuce, tomatoes and similar produce.

Ms Coffey went on to acknowledge shoppers want a "year-round choice".

She said: "A lot of people would be eating turnips right now rather than thinking necessarily about aspects of lettuce and tomatoes and similar, but I'm conscious that consumers want a year-round choice and that is what our supermarkets, food producers and growers around the world try to satisfy."

The hit to British shops comes as photos from war-ravaged Ukraine show bountiful stocks of tomatoes and cucumbers which are being rationed in British supermarkets.

Channel Four International Editor Lindsey Hillsum posted a picture from under-fire Kherson which showed plentiful stocks of produce on her Twitter.

Journalist John Sweeney also posted to social media from Ukraine's capital Kyiv showing plentiful stocks of tomatoes on shelves.

This comes after bad weather and Brexit led to shortages of tomatoes and cucumbers across Britain - with major supermarkets imposing purchase limits.

The limits are reportedly to stop restaurant proprietors from using retail outlets as wholesalers as shortages hit.

Customers will be allowed to buy a maximum of three packs at Aldi, the chain announced yesterday.

Tesco became the fourth major supermarket to impose rationing, with limits of three per customer on sales of tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers.

Read More: Tesco and Aldi ration veg: Two more supermarkets impose limits on tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers

Read More: Consumers should see ‘significant volumes’ of British tomatoes by end of March

Asda and Morrisons have already introduced caps on a range of fruits and vegetables.

Asda has limited shoppers to three items each on eight fresh produce lines – including broccoli, cauliflower, raspberries and lettuces.

Morrisons is putting limits of two per item on packs of tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce and peppers from Wednesday.

Sainsbury's, Lidl, Waitrose and M&S have not announced any limits.

Hilsum wrote: "No tomato shortage here - but I'm in Kherson, a frontline Ukrainian city that gets shelled by the Russian daily, not a British supermarket."

Earlier today, Liz Webster, from Save British Food, who has a farm in Wiltshire, called for an urgent return of free trade with Europe to keep British supermarket shelves stocked.

"I’ve been trying to tell people this is on the way for some time," she told Nick Ferrari on LBC this morning.“It’s because of Brexit.“Ultimately, the decisions that were made by this government, on the Brexit they chose, and what they chose to do after that Brexit.

“We’re looking at a cascading collapse of British food because of Brexit decisions.

“They are getting rid of our food security in Britain to rely on the world supposedly to feed us.

“At the same time they’ve cut off our trade with Europe, less is coming in and less is going out, and then we’re relying on people outside of Europe, which are a long way away from us to feed us.

“Tomato growers in glass houses in Britain have shut them down,” she said as a result of energy costs that are higher than the rest of Europe.

“The only solution is to get back in the single market and the customs union as quickly as possible, because now we can’t feed you as much food, we need that quick supply to come in from Europe and that’s only going to happen if you free up our trade.”