Government accused of failing to protect UK food supplies

An open letter to Boris Johnson calls for a review of UK food defence and food security
An open letter to Boris Johnson calls for a review of UK food defence and food security

Leading food experts have accused the government of failing to adequately protect food supplies against the backdrop of the pandemic and Brexit.

The three academics have sent an open letter to the prime minister pressing the case for urgent investment in 'food defence' measures.

They say this would ensure adequate infrastructure is in place to protect the population from insecure food supplies.

Professors Tim Lang, Erik Millstone and Terry Marsden argue that while emergency provisions to smooth post-Brexit trade have been taken, there has been no parallel attention to improving consumer preparedness for food emergencies.

The open letter calls for a review of UK food defence and food security, by bringing forward the National Food Strategy Part 2 to 'fill the current policy vacuum'.

The lack of focus on healthy eating as part of the response to Covid is also criticised, a failing the trio argue amounts to 'a dereliction of duties under civil contingencies legislation'.

They call on ministers to instruct Public Health England and the Food Standards Agency to produce nutritional advice detailing foods consumers should be choosing to protect their health against Covid.

A Food Advisory Group for Emergencies (FAGE) that is part of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) infrastructure should also be created.

Professor Erik Millstone, of the University of Sussex Business School, said poor diet and poor health had undoubtedly contributed to the UK’s 'appalling' Covid death rate.

“The public needs clear nutritional advice on how to eat to enhance their immune responses in the pandemic and people need to have the financial resources to obtain those foods.

“Eating and being healthy isn’t just good for the NHS in normal times, it is essential now when people need to build resistance to the virus."

The academics also warn that the population is not being adequately prepared for the food challenges now facing the UK, such as climate change and the need to change eating patterns.

They point to recent controversies with free school meal parcels as evidence of the government’s underwhelming response to the food challenges it currently faces.

Professor Tim Lang, of City, University of London, added that the immediate threats to the food system had not gone away, and food supplies could not be taken for granted.

“It’s being disrupted in the flow to Ireland. And too much power has gone to retailers in Covid-19 when we ought to be building resilience and diversity within the market system to face the future.

"We need a more diversified and decentralised food supply system which builds UK food security and resilience post-Brexit and post Covid,” he said.