A food supply chain summit held at Number 10 was a “good first step” for the industry, according to some food associations, but others fear it failed to take strong enough action.
Prime minister Rishi Sunak and environment secretary Thérèse Coffey met with representatives from across the UK food supply chain at Downing Street on Tuesday to discuss the ongoing rising inflation and food shortages that have plagued the country.
The government announced measures at the summit to fund innovation in the farming sector, increase the number of seasonal worker permits, conduct further reviews into egg and horticulture sectors, announced additional schemes to boost exports and address water and energy security.
The Food and Drink Federation’s chief executive, Karen Betts, told Supply Management the summit was a good “first step”, but said it wasn’t focussed enough on the issues driving inflation along the supply chain.
Betts said: “The summit was a constructive first step in addressing some of the complex challenges the UK food system is currently facing, which are very visible in record-high levels of food and drink price inflation, and in the availability of some products.
“However, it’s a pity there wasn’t more of a laser focus on immediate issues and the drivers of inflation. While some of these are beyond everyone’s control, many are not. Action to fill labour and skills shortages and to simplify current and upcoming regulation, as well as simplifying post-Brexit labelling changes, would help to drive down prices.”
The British Poultry Council (BPC) highlighted the impact of rising production costs on national food security, noting that focusing solely on keeping food affordable without a fair price for producers is forcing suppliers to scale back production.
It warned that the government could not afford to “side step” the issues facing the UK food industry.
The BPC’s chief executive, Richard Griffiths, said: “The commitments must lead to real tangible change, where ‘food security’ translates into meaningful objectives that support British poultry meat producers in ensuring safe, affordable, nutritious, low impact food.”
He continued: “We must now ensure that this doesn’t pivot into a side step around the big issues we are waiting for more detail on.”
However, the National Farmers Union (NFU) president, Minette Batters, said she was “relieved” to see food security being taken seriously by the government.
“The announcements made show a recognition and an understanding of the strategic importance of British food and farming to the nation. And the actions recognise the importance of coordinated action across government to support confidence, investment and growth in British food.
“What we need now is to build on these announcements. We are calling for a set of core agri-food import standards for trade. While it is pleasing the government is looking to maintain self-sufficiency at 60%, we believe there’s an opportunity to produce much more of our own food here. We can and should be more ambitious and look to move beyond this target.”
Batters added it is “vital” the summit become an annual event, to ensure food security does not drop down the political agenda.
MPs from the cross-party Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Committee last week confirmed they are investigating how profit and risk is shared throughout the food supply chain. The announcement came amidst recent claims that some supermarkets have been “profiteering” from high food prices.
☛ Want to stay up to date with the news? Sign up to our daily bulletin.