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UK faces potential civil unrest due to food shortages, study warns

A comprehensive study conducted by the University of York and Anglia Ruskin University reveals a concerning possibility of civil unrest in the UK, triggered by food shortages resulting from extreme weather conditions.

The research, which involved a survey of experts in academia, policy, charities, and business, highlights the vulnerabilities in the UK’s food system.

Expert Insights on Food Security

Over 40% of the surveyed experts expressed that civil unrest, defined as over 30,000 people suffering violent injuries in a single year due to events like demonstrations and violent looting, is a plausible scenario in the UK within the next decade.

This sentiment escalates to nearly 80% when projecting 50 years into the future. The experts cite logistical distribution issues as the primary concern over the next 10 years, while a catastrophic failure leading to an overall food shortage is deemed a more significant threat in the long term.

Weather Extremes and Food Supply

Extreme weather events, including storm surges, flooding, snow, and drought, are identified as the primary drivers of potential food shortages and distribution issues. The experts underscore the need for a resilient food system, especially in light of increasing climate change-induced weather anomalies.

Professor Sarah Bridle, chair of food, climate, and society at the University of York, emphasises the urgency of addressing these challenges to mitigate the risks associated with major crop yield failures.

Foods at Risk

The study identifies wheat, bread, pasta, and cereal as the food items most likely to instigate unrest in the event of a shortage. However, the experts also caution that a combination of factors, including ecological collapse, trade restrictions, financial crashes, and pandemics, could exacerbate the situation.

Sue Newton, GB Food & Beverage Leader at WTW, stresses the importance of multifaceted risk planning and resilience building for both governments and businesses to navigate these complex challenges effectively.

A Call for Resilience

The findings of this study underscore the critical need for a robust and resilient food system in the UK. The increasing prevalence of extreme weather events, many attributed to climate change, poses a significant threat to food security.

A collaborative effort involving policy reform, innovative solutions, and international cooperation is essential to fortify the UK’s food system against these emerging challenges, ensuring the well-being and safety of the population.



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