UK competition law “may be hindering” efforts to strengthen food security, according to a report by the Fairtrade Foundation.
The report said cooperation between companies could benefit consumer value by improving quality and security of supply, as well as bringing social and environmental advantages to producers and farmers who grow food.
However, businesses were often wary of working with rivals to strengthen supply chains, as they feared breaking competition law.
It added that at the same time, producers and farmers face an increasingly uncertain future because of fluctuating prices and climate change.
Tim Aldred, head of policy at the Fairtrade Foundation, said with the population set to reach 9.7bn by 2040, a potential global food security crisis needed strong policy responses.
“The world faces tremendous challenges in producing enough food to feed a growing population,” he said.
“Unstable supply chains are causing food shortages all over the world and this trend is set to continue unless we act.”
The foundation said it wanted the UK government and the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) to do “more to encourage private sector companies to work together to promote sustainability in the their supply chains”.
It said it was calling on the CMA to issue specific guidance outlining how cross-business initiatives for sustainability purposes would be assessed under competition law.
Aldred said releasing guidelines would help businesses navigate the existing rules better and remove artificial fears about how joint action can be taken forward.
“We encourage the government and the CMA to do all they can to foster cooperation between businesses and companies to recognise the importance of collective action on this issue, in the long-term interests of both UK consumers and vulnerable farmers and workers growing the food we eat,” he said.
“By working together, businesses can take the lead in mitigating the fall-out from increasingly fragile supply chains and, at the same time, embed sustainability at the heart of their operations.”
As part of the report, a number of hypothetical collaborations were modelled to illustrate how they would work in practice and what the financial implications would be.
Fairtrade said in every instance, the value to the consumer, through improved product quality and stability of supply, was greater than any additional cost.
The report also showed that UK consumers were increasingly looking to business and government to solve the issue.
In a survey commissioned as part of the research, 92% of the public said they believed it is the responsibility of retailers to ensure sustainable food production, while 72% expect the government to ensure food is produced to high ethical and environmental standards.
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