About 30 British trade organizations have called on their government to revise its food strategy. They did so in a document entitled 'UK Food and Drink: Building a path to recovery'. These associations are from the agricultural and horticultural, as well as the food industry, sectors.
According to them, the corona crisis has revealed systemic flaws. These are caused by a longstanding lack of support for domestic food production. Global chains and markets are susceptible to disruptions. All the while, self-sufficiency in the UK has declined. The group has asked for increased exports. A 'UK Food and Drink' organization should support these. It still needs to be set up.
It should be similar to the Irish Bord Bia and Scotland Food & Drink. They also demand import substitutions, automation, and up-skilling. According to the associations, substantial short-term investments are needed. These must be made in the UK's agricultural, processing, and food service sectors. Crisis recovery must also focus on more sustainable, healthy consumption. There must be more pro-active food wastage policies too.
The British food and drink sector contributes £460 billion to the country's economy. That's as a whole - from farm to fork. It employs more than four million people. They are spread across England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. This includes not only the food processing industry and agriculture.
But also transportation and logistics, (refrigerated) storage, and the packaging sector. People work in catering, hospitality/food service, and greengrocer too. All these sectors are referred to in the trade organizations' 'eating ecosystem' document. The associations have urged the government to see this ecosystem as a whole.
The corona crisis has tested this British 'eating ecosystem' to its fullest. There has, for example, been an enormous increase in demand for grocery delivery services. Food processing companies have had to adapt their workplaces. These have to meet the social distancing requirements. The number of stock units in (online) stores has had to be streamlined too.
And there's been a decline in available labor. Add the hospitality and foodservice sectors' to this. All this has had a major impact on the supply chain. The corona crisis has also revealed that chains and markets all over the world are sensitive to disruptions. Above all, the UK's self-sufficiency rate has declined to about 60%. Some say it's as low as 50%.
Self-sufficiency rate and food security
The UK's food and drink sector must remain viable in the future. The group of trade organizations, therefore, wants more governmental focus. This must be on local production's contribution to food security. Several associations had earlier already pointed out the country's too-low self-sufficiency rate. These include groups like the National Farmers' Union and scientists at York University.
This statement's also supported by the driving force behind the revision of the British National Food Strategy. The researchers in York say COVID-19 exposed the UK's food supply chains' vulnerability. They pointed out several things. There's the country's under-capacity for domestic production. Then, there are Brexit-driven labor market shortages. Chains are also of a just-in-time nature. And there's a lack of sourcing and supply route diversity too.
For example, vegetables are imported almost exclusively from Spain and the Netherlands. An increased commitment to sustainable, higher production is being advocated. That's being done by the business community and knowledge institutes. This is in line with the British government's course for post-Brexit agricultural policy. It also underlines the opportunities that exist for Dutch technology, know-how, and service provision.
The path to recovery
The trade organizations want increased exports. These must be supported by a yet-to-be-established 'UK Food and Drink' association. It should be similar to the Irish Bord Bia and Scotland Food & Drink. They want import substitutions, automation, and up-skilling. To achieve this, the organizations have established seven global goals. This 'path to recovery' must lead to success in the 'new normal' world.