Covid-19 and the UK’s food supply
The ongoing influx of photographs featuring empty shelves and panic shoppers at UK supermarkets has sparked widespread concern over how Covid-19 might affect the nation’s food supply.
Supermarkets and the government have assured the public that they are able to cope, and that the nation’s food supply will not run out.
This is in part because current shortages are not related to the supply chain, but because of newly developed shopping behaviours. Clearly, there is a limit to how much people can sensibly stockpile. So, shopping patterns should return to normal eventually, and the availability of most products should follow suit.
Regardless, the pandemic has prompted wider fears surrounding the sustainability of the supply chains that we are so dependent on, especially seeing as 30% of the food we eat comes from the European Union, including many basics such as flour.
Tim Lang, Professor of Food Policy at London’s City University, explains what makes the system vulnerable:
“It is like a web of stretched rubber bands, if one breaks then it knocks on through the system.”
Keeping logistics working is essential to putting food on the table, but with so many people becoming ill or having to be isolated, what contingency plans are in place to keep the system working?
At present, the UK government is treating what they are referring to as ‘key’ logistics workers in the same way as the emergency services or NHS staff. So they should be free, fit and well enough to go to work.
It is worth noting that not all the extra food being purchased in supermarkets is being stockpiled. In many of the UK’s large cities, a quarter of all meals are normally eaten outside the home.
Closing all cafes, bars and restaurants has had the obvious consequence of increasing demand for food from shops.
The current crisis has demonstrated how complicated and delicate supply chains have become, and how dependent the UK is on external sources. There is, therefore, bound to be significant pressure on the relevant authorities to strengthen and simplify them, and to encourage the use of British grown produce and domestic supply chains.