Just-in-time leaves UK vulnerable to cyber attacks

13 July 2021

The UK needs to develop “food defence” to protect supply chains, according to a report.

In the report the Food Research Collaboration warned food supply chains were highly vulnerable to cyber attacks due to a reliance on computerised ordering systems and overseas produce.

“UK food defence is currently not fit for purpose,” said the report.

“The high and increasing reliance of the food system on IT for just-in-time logistics, infrastructure and financial transactions points to its vulnerability to cyber attacks.”  

The report pointed to last month’s cyber attack on the world’s biggest meat processor JBS which resulted in the company paying a ransom of $11m after a cyber attack shut down its global operations, and said similar threats could happen to the UK if action isn’t taken. 

The report stated: “The UK could not feed its people adequately, let alone well, if there was a severe supply or trade crisis.”

Co-author of the report, Tim Lang, professor of food policy at City University in London, explained any attacks on satellites could damage Britain’s food supply, and a reliance on computerised systems for refilling shop supplies left the UK’s food ecosystem vulnerable.

The report comes ahead of the publication of the second part of the government-commissioned National Food Strategy. The strategy is reviewing the UK’s food system and the first part, published last year, was seen as a “once in a lifetime opportunity” to reshape policy. 

The report – carried out by academics from City University, Cardiff University and the University of Sussex – found the UK was too “reliant” on European food supplies. 

The UK currently imports nearly half of its food, and 84% of its fresh fruit. 

According to Lang, the UK should aim to be 80% self-sufficient in food production to ensure the country’s food supply remains secure amid disruptions. 

The report said: “The UK’s default complacency about food security places excessive reliance on others to feed it.” 

“Ministers have so far set no clear goals for the UK food system post-Brexit, or even for levels of home production. This is especially critical for the health-important horticulture sector.”

The warnings follow lorry driver shortages that have led to problems transporting food to the UK from Europe.

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