MPs want a new minister to make sure the country doesn’t run out of food – particularly if Britain crashes out of the EU.
A new report by the Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee warns that future food supplies could be under threat when faced with the challenges including a ‘disorderly Brexit’ and climate change.
The UK and EU have just five months to strike a new trade deal with the current transition period due to come to an end on December 31. The government ‘cannot be complacent’, the committee warned.
Tory chairman Neil Parish said the UK’s ‘problems with food security are far from over’ – despite the easing of lockdown. He said: ‘Food banks and other food redistribution organisations have reacted heroically to a shocking spike in demand for food aid, but this problem is likely to get worse before it gets better.
‘It is therefore essential that the government appoints a new minister for food security who will stop this issue falling between the cracks.
‘The government’s actions to lock down the country and close businesses were necessary, but they had huge impacts on the food sector and on food security.’
About 30% of food consumed in the UK comes from the EU, a Lords inquiry previously concluded. Under a no-deal Brexit, those imports will face additional checks at the border, leading to delays and shortening the shelf life of some products.
Mr Parish said the coronavirus pandemic showed the UK was ‘constantly playing catch-up’ with food supply issues, citing the shift to online shopping during lockdown as a trend the government failed to adequately prepare for. He said: ‘Despite warnings from other countries, it seemed as though the government was constantly playing catch-up in trying to support the food industry during this crisis.
‘The pandemic also highlighted our reliance on key workers, and I unreservedly thank those in the food supply chain whose work kept the nation fed throughout the crisis.
‘The voucher scheme for free school meals failed to recognise where families using them were likely to shop and encouraging everyone to shop online, when supermarkets had warned they would struggle to meet demand, set the scene for public frustration.’
A government spokeswoman said the UK had a ‘large, diverse and highly resilient’ food supply chain that could cope under ‘unprecedented pressure’. She said: ‘During this time the government has worked closely with the food industry to prepare for a range of scenarios and has invested record levels of funding to help people get the food they need.
‘Our Covid-19 taskforce has also brought together expertise across government to tackle the extraordinary circumstances of this pandemic and ensure those most vulnerable in our society are protected.’