The ‘path to recovery’ proposals also call on the Government to address the UK’s negative balance of trade in food.
“COVID-19 has challenged the UK food and drink industry in a once-in-a-generation way," said Michael Bell, executive director of the Northern Ireland Food and Drink Association (NIFDA) and coordinator of the report. "Food manufacturers have been working harder than ever to ensure that the nation is fed – with companies having to adapt to an evolving situation at a rapid pace, responding to changes in demand and implementing social distancing measures.
"Within a short period of time, firms have reengineered and reimagined processes, requiring a significant level of investment. Put simply, the industry has demonstrated both its ingenuity and its necessity in these unprecedented times."
Protect food production capacity
Bell said the industry stood ready to work with Government on the plan. In the short term, the priority was to protect the UK's capacity in food production, ensuring its domestic farming, processing and foodservice sectors were able to emerge from the pandemic intact.
“In the longer term, the Government needs to reassess its policy on food and drink," said Bell. "For too long, successive governments have been content to witness continual decline in self-sufficiency in food. The strain that COVID-19 has put on the food chain has exposed the inherent weaknesses in this approach, and we now have an opportunity to reverse that trend.
"It will require serious investment, but the economic and societal gains would be immense. The UK currently has a trade deficit of some £24Bbn in food. Assuming 30% of this could be produced efficiently in the UK, a balance of trade benefit of up to £8bn could be realised."
The food industry and the wider sectors it supports, including retail and foodservice, contribute £460bn to the national economy across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, said Bell. "The ‘path to recovery’ proposals published today provide the opportunity to build on that success, and deliver new gains for society across the UK as we emerge from this pandemic.”