'Disorderly Brexit' and coronavirus threaten UK's food security, MPs claim

30 July 2020, 06:37 | Updated: 30 July 2020, 10:33

The committee chairman warned despite the easing of lockdown "problems with food security are far from over".
The committee chairman warned despite the easing of lockdown "problems with food security are far from over". Picture: PA
EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

A Minister for Food Security is needed to help with the threats posed by Covid-19 and a "disorderly Brexit", a group of MPs said.

A new report by a cross-party group of MPs has warned the Government "cannot be complacent" with the threat of possible future crises triggered by climate change or a disorderly end to the Brexit transition period which could impact on food supplies.

The Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee said despite the easing of the coronavirus lockdown, "problems with food security are far from over".

Millions of people have struggled to access food as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, with the number of food bank users doubling during lockdown.

The Conservative chairman of the committee Neil Parish, 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."

Mr Parish said the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs was "commendable" during the pandemic, but the overall Government response could have been better.

He added: "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.

"In the future the Government will need to communicate better with the public.

"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.

"We want the Government to learn lessons for the future."

A Government spokeswoman said: "As we have seen in recent months, the UK has a large, diverse and highly resilient food supply chain - which is able to cope with unprecedented pressures.

"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."

Shadow environment secretary Luke Pollard said: "This is a balanced and measured report that endorses what we have been saying - the Government dithered over food supply and outsourced responsibility to the big supermarkets.

"The real reason for surging food poverty is not a lack of food, it is too much poverty. We need action to ensure families can feed themselves, including improving the chaotic and unfair free school meal voucher scheme.

"Food insecurity is a national security issue. Covid-19 has laid bare serious weaknesses in our food supply chain, which is approaching another severe test this December when the Brexit transition period ends."

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