The Government had not considered the impact of a long-feared second wave on the food supply chain, the Environment Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) committee claimed in its COVID-19 and Food Supply report.
The committee has called for the Government to consult on the ‘right to food’ after the National Food Strategy is published. It has also pressed them to appoint a minister for food security, to draw together policy across departments on food supply, nutrition and welfare in order to deliver sustainable change.
Given the risks posed by a second wave of COVID-19 and the end of the Brexit transition period it called for this as ‘a matter of great urgency’. It also called for the continued funding of efforts to redistribute food from the food supply chain that would otherwise be wasted to those in need.
Commenting on apparent inaction by the Government, EFRA committee chair Neil Parish said: “During the first wave of the pandemic, we saw how Government was able to move rapidly to help redistribute surplus food, and provide packages to those shielding, but we are now facing a winter in which the economic impact of the virus will be felt ever more sharply.
“The food industry and retailers have told us repeatedly that the end of the Brexit transition period in December poses a much bigger risk to our food supplies than COVID did.”
Parish accused the Government of lacking urgency on these issues and urged it to be more prepared. Key to being more prepared would be the appointment of a minister for food.
“But it is not enough on its own,” he added. “For example, the Government also needs to increase support for redistribution of surplus food to those who need it most.”
EFRA’s latest recommendations come as a wave of new lockdown regulations start to be implemented across the UK.
Scottish Food & Drink chief executive James Withers described attempts to untangle the latest restrictions in Scotland as stressful and confusing for businesses. Suppliers were barely clinging on for survival in the hope that the hospitality sector would re-open, he said.
“The mood of the sector is as grim now as at any time since the spring,” said Withers. “Hospitality and its suppliers are in the eye of the economic storm, despite having done so much to open up and operate safely. It feels like a huge kick in the teeth and unfortunately not all hospitality businesses will be able to weather the storm ahead.
“The next step will be to look carefully at the details of new Scottish Government and UK Government support in the hope it buys some survival time.”
The Hospitality sector in England and Wales is set to receive support through new schemes set out by Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak. However, there is no sign of that support trickling down to the suppliers to the sector.
However, Food and Drink Federation chief executive Ian Wright said the support did not address the difficulties of the suppliers to businesses that were being forced to close due to lockdown measures.
“Through no fault of their own, [manufacturers] face being shut with no income,” he explained. “Without additional support for the supply chain throughout lockdown, many of these ‘squeezed middle’ suppliers will simply not survive.
“While many manufacturers are managing to adapt and find new routes to market, that just doesn’t work for others. When the Government is ordering businesses to close it is the duty of the Treasury to intervene at scale and with speed. Otherwise thousands of jobs, companies and livelihoods will be lost for ever.”
Meanwhile, restrictions placed on the hospitality sector could have a major impact on some food manufacturers, trade associations have claimed.