UK parties ignoring food shortage risks, say farming and retail bodies

Updated
<span>Empty shelves at a Morrisons supermarket in London, February 2023. The farming and retail bodies said food security had not been on the agenda of any of the parties.</span><span>Photograph: Andy Rain/EPA</span>
Empty shelves at a Morrisons supermarket in London, February 2023. The farming and retail bodies said food security had not been on the agenda of any of the parties.Photograph: Andy Rain/EPA

Farmers and supermarkets have accused the main political parties of ignoring the risk of severe food shortages in Britain, calling the issue a “worrying blind spot” in their general election campaigns.

The UK’s main farming and food and drink bodies have joined forces to voice their frustration at the lack of focus on food security by politicians as the attempt to gain votes, despite the headwinds faced by producers.

A letter signed by the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) and the British Retail Consortium (BRC) to leaders of the Conservative, Labour and the Liberal Democrat parties said: “The basic responsibility of any government is to ensure its citizens are safe and properly fed.

“But while we have heard much about defence and energy security in recent weeks, we have heard very little about food security.

“The lack of focus on food in the political narrative during the campaigns demonstrates a worrying blind spot for those that would govern us.”

The other signatories to the letter included the Food & Drink Federation (FDF) and UK Hospitality.

Farmers have faced multiple recent challenges including extreme weather and escalating production costs that have limited their ability to grow crops.

Between October 2022 and March 2024, England experienced its wettest 18-month period since records began in 1836, which left many farms under water and farmers unable to plant crops.

Analysis by the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit estimates that production of key crops like wheat, barley and oats could fall by a fifth this year because of the wet weather.

The NFU’s annual farmer confidence survey recorded that the majority of farmers would decrease production next year.

The letter said that, while the UK food system had remained efficient and resilient in recent years in the face of Covid, the Ukraine war and Britain’s exit from the EU, supply chains had come under strain, leaving gaps on some shop shelves.

The bodies wrote: “It would be foolhardy to assume that our food system will always withstand shocks, especially against the backdrop of increased geopolitical instability and climate change.”

Tom Bradshaw, president of the NFU, said that the signatories of the letter were concerned that food security had not been on the agenda of any of the parties in the first few weeks of campaigning for the 4 July general election.

He said that while there were good elements in all the manifestos, the letter’s signatories agreed that stronger commitments were needed if food production was to be protected.

The Conservative party has vowed to increase the UK-wide farming budget by £1bn over the parliament if elected, as well as introduce a legally binding food security target for the country.

The Liberal Democrats committed to injecting £1bn a year into the farming budget, while also promising more consultation with the sector on trade deals.

Labour has failed to put a figure on its farming budget but has promised to publish a trade strategy to promote the highest standards in food production.

Bradshaw said there were some “gaping holes” in Labour’s manifesto, which concerned the NFU, in particular not specifying its farming budget if it gained power.

He said: “They have written in their manifesto that food security is national security, which we welcome, but we now need to make sure that is underpinned by policies that are going to enable the delivery of that ambition.”

The letter from the food groups calls for all parties to commit to an agricultural budget that enables the delivery of environmental objectives, as well as a planning system that allows investment into modern buildings and an approach to trade that reduces friction and tariffs.

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