Vulnerability of the UK’s food supply chains exposed by COVID-19, study reveals

4 June 2020 / Eric Swales

The UK has been left “dangerously dependent” on just two EU countries for its fresh vegetable imports, a new study on the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the UK food system has revealed.

https://www.nature.com/articles/s43016-020-0097-7

The study, published in Nature Food, also reveals that insufficient capacity in domestic food production, just-in-time supply chains and Brexit-related labour market challenges have all resulted in a weakened UK food system. Building diversity and collaboration in the food system is essential for resilience in the COVID-19 recovery, the authors of the University of York study say.

One of the authors of the study, Professor Bob Doherty, from York Management School and Chair for the N8 AgriFood research programme at the University of York, said:
“COVID-19 is creating, and will continue to create, problems for food sector organisations, including disrupting their ability to produce goods and services. Reduced production in one part of the network will have knock-on effects for production elsewhere. Ordinarily such resource issues would either be resolved quickly or the deficit would be filled by another organisation in the network. COVID-19, however, might be enough of a systemic shock that mechanisms in the system that normally resolve problems can no longer function.

The UK Government in partnership with the food industry must rethink this reliance on such a vulnerable food system in the COVID-19 recovery period. How the UK can grow more of its own food sustainably should be considered whilst also maintaining good trade relations with our EU partners. Hence, a sensible joined-up farming and trade policy that is evidence-based is required.”