NFU leads food coalition in calls to fix supply chain

15 December 2021

Back British Farming Food supply chain
George Eustice, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs at Food Security Summit on December 14, 2021

A coalition of leading food and farming businesses warns that the UK faces a deepening food supply chain crisis unless the government takes urgent action to fix the structural issues facing the industry.

This week Minette Batters chaired the Food Security Summit: Serious about British food. The organisations there called on the government to set out a positive food and farming policy that creates a resilient and sustainable supply chain to underpin domestic food security.

Ongoing issues

The summit took place at the end of a year that saw the first ever mass cull of healthy pigs in the UK, a shortage of seasonal workers that threatened fruit and veg being left unpicked in fields, a shortage of lorry drivers, a limited choice of products on supermarket shelves and a rise in imports due to domestic supply chain issues.

Alongside this, record inflationary pressures have affected energy, feed and fertiliser prices.

NFU President Minette Batters explained, “Britain’s farmers are world-leaders in producing climate-friendly food and, over the past 18 months, have been working hard to keep shelves and fridges full despite many being impacted by severe supply chain issues, particularly worker shortages.

“Government has tried to paper over the cracks with short-term fixes, but if we want to avoid this crisis continuing, long-term solutions are urgently needed to ensure a resilient supply chain that enables us to continue supplying everyone at home with fantastic produce, as well as leading on the global stage.”

“Government has tried to paper over the cracks with short-term fixes, but if we want to avoid this crisis continuing, long-term solutions are urgently needed to ensure a resilient supply chain that enables us to continue supplying everyone at home with fantastic produce, as well as leading on the global stage.”
NFU President Minette Batters

Minette Batters has been calling on the government to ensure that Britain maintains its self-sufficiency level.

She went on to say, “A start would be a serious commitment from government to, at the very least, maintain Britain’s food production self-sufficiency level at 60% and helping to create an environment for farm and food businesses to thrive and compete in the coming years.”

Working together

There have been issues throughout the pandemic including rising energy prices and worker shortages. These have combined to increase the pressures on the food industry.

Recognising the importance of the summit, Jayne Almond, Director of Policy and Corporate Affairs, Food and Drink Federation, said: “There is no better industry than food and drink – from farm to fork – to level up the United Kingdom. With a footprint in every constituency, food and drink provides local jobs and makes a significant contribution to the UK’s economic performance. However, supply chain issues and rising costs are challenging manufacturers like never before. This important summit must consider how we can work together to support our producers and manufacturers, while ensuring UK shoppers continue to get the food and drink they want, at the right price.”

The pig sector is in meltdown

In what has been a heart-breaking year for the pig sector, Dr Zoe Davies, Chief Executive, National Pig Association explained that we all need to pull together. She said: “The UK pig sector is still in meltdown as worker shortages continue to impact our ability to process the number of pigs we already have on farms. The entire food supply chain and government must pull together and resolve the backlog now or we will have no independent pig producers left. Already 60% of the pork eaten in the UK comes from the EU – it would be a travesty to see this figure increase as more healthy UK pigs are culled on farms and their meat wasted.”

Clear strategy is needed

Andrew Opie, Director of Food and Sustainability, British Retail Consortium, acknowledged how hard food retailers and producers have been working post-Brexit, he explained, “The government needs a coherent food policy to maintain UK production, including a clear strategy for solving labour shortages throughout the supply chain. Food retailers and producers are working hard to adapt to a post-Brexit world, ensuring supply chains can continue to deliver quality and affordable food for everyone.”

Increasing costs

Ash Amirahmadi, Managing Director, Arla Foods UK, said that pressure on the supply chain would result in price increases: “The UK food and farming sector is experiencing shortages in a range of areas caused by local and global factors that are putting real pressure on the supply chain, increasing costs and, ultimately, prices.

“These strains are not going to go away as we work to become even more sustainable and compete for the best people to come into our industry. Collaboration between government, the industry and farmers is the only way to address this for the long-term and all of us at Arla are ready to play our part.”

Bob Carnell, Chief Executive, ABP UK reiterated the need for a level playing field when comparing British meat to imported meat. He said, “The UK is one of the most environmentally competitive beef producers globally. We have the opportunity to further enhance this position and become a global leader through improved use of data and technology at farm level and adopting a whole farm approach to sustainable beef production.

“To help deliver and give UK consumers and other markets access to the best beef in the world, we need to attract and retain more skilled workers from home and abroad and ensure a level playing field for quality British meat when compared to imports.”

Defra secretary George Eustice will address the summit later today.

Engaging with government

The food security summit comes after Minette Batters and her team met MPs and Peers from across the political spectrum to discuss the important issues ahead for farmers in 2022. The event was sponsored by Fay Jones, MP for Brecon and Radnorshire.

At the event the Chancellor, The Rt Hon Rishi Sunak MP, paid tribute to British agriculture and spoke about the importance of rural communities.

In his remarks, he paid tribute to the work the NFU does not only in Westminster but also on the ground, supporting members across England and Wales.

Buy local

Mr Sunak encouraged all those attending to buy local and sustainable British produce over the festive period, and also spoke about the government’s eight new agri-food and drink attachés – something the NFU has long been lobbying for.

Minette Batters thanked the Chancellor for the government’s support for businesses during the pandemic which provided a lifeline for many businesses across the food and drink sector.

She went on to reiterate to the Chancellor the importance of maintaining our self-sufficiency in food, the need for the government to support innovation in the sector and the importance of ensuring that the government’s agenda reaches rural areas.

Whatever the rules post Christmas, the NFU will continue to work hard to engage with MPs and Peers from all political parties to keep farming at the heart of Westminster.

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