Urgent action needed to secure home-grown food supply to avoid shortages

06 December 2022

NFU President Minette Batters speaking at an NFU branded lecturn

Government faces a stark choice: back British food production in order to secure a home-grown supply of sustainable food or risk seeing more empty shelves in the nation’s supermarkets, the NFU warned today.

With pictures of empty egg shelves and UK fruit and veg growers under massive pressure due to soaring energy costs and workforce shortages, other farming sectors could soon be under threat from immediate supply issues caused by a lack of fairness for farmers and growers throughout the supply chain.

The warning came at an emergency press conference convened by the NFU, on the same day as NFU horticulture board members gathered for an extraordinary meeting about ongoing shortages in its workforce, and as Defra holds a crucial roundtable with representatives from the egg supply chain.

NFU President Minette Batters urged the Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to honour the commitments he made to support British farmers through the energy crisis and to set a target for the nation’s food security, with a statutory duty to report on domestic food levels.

Mrs Batters said: “Shoppers up and down the country have for decades had a guaranteed supply of high-quality affordable food produced to some of the highest animal welfare, environmental and food safety standards in the world. That food, produced with care by British farmers, is critical to our nation’s security and success. But British food is under threat.

“Only last week, the former Director General of MI5, The Baroness Manningham-Buller, said that food is part of our critical national infrastructure and that government needs to be consistent in planning for our food supply. I couldn’t agree more, particularly at a time when global volatility is threatening the stability of the world’s food production, food security and energy security.

“We have already seen the egg supply chain crippled under the pressure caused by these issues and I fear the country is sleepwalking into further food supply crises, with the future of British fruit and vegetable supplies in trouble. We need government and the wider supply chain to act now - tomorrow could well be too late.”

Our key asks:

  • We need an urgent investigation by Defra into whether an “exceptional market conditions” declaration should be made under the Agriculture Act 2020, given the severe disruption which egg producers and UK consumers are experiencing.
  • Back in early 2021, the government announced it would regulate dairy contracts to enable fairer terms for dairy farmers, but this still hasn’t happened. We need the government to progress with their plans to bring fairness in the dairy sector.
  • Fruit and veg growers need fair treatment and confidence to invest and a commitment from government to lift the cap on the seasonal worker scheme to increase the number of visas available to meet the sector’s essential workforce needs
  • British food and farming needs to be a political priority. Promises made by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, in August 2022, need to be delivered, in particular: by establishing a new food security target, including a statutory duty to monitor and report on domestic food production levels annually, to hold a UK-wide annual food security summit and introduce a new target for public sector organisations to buy 50% of their food locally.
  • Agriculture and horticulture must be seen as a vulnerable sector in regard to energy security.