Food and drink supply chain calls on next government to secure future of British food

Ahead of the general election, party leaders are being urged by the UK’s food and drink supply chain to ensure policies on food security are front and centre of their public campaigns, to set out how they intend to support domestic food and farming sectors, and how they will work to ensure resilient supply chains.

The NFU, British Retail Consortium, UK Hospitality and Food and Drink Federation – representatives of the country’s farmers, supermarkets, hospitality, catering and food companies – have joined forces to express frustration at the lack of coverage during the campaigns so far as to how the next government will approach the issue despite widespread agreement that “food security is national security”.

In a letter to the party leaders, the organisations say this omission in public election campaigning needs to be urgently addressed before polling day on 4 July.

The letter states: “Our food system has shown itself in recent years to be efficient and resilient, maintaining UK food supply through a series of major challenges, including Covid-19, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and new trading arrangements by leaving the European Union.

”At times those supply chains have come under severe strain, leading to shortages of some food and drink products and increasing costs at all points of the chain from producer to consumer. It would be foolhardy to assume that our food system will always withstand shocks, especially against the backdrop of increased geo-political instability and climate change.

“The basic responsibility of any government is to ensure its citizens are safe and properly fed. But while we have heard much about defence and energy security in recent weeks, we have heard very little about food security. The lack of focus on food in the political narrative during the campaigns demonstrates a worrying blind-spot for those that would govern us.”

The letter continues: “Getting these policies right has multiple benefits for our country and the public beyond simply guaranteeing our food security. A thriving food and drink sector is an engine for economic growth, one that is spread equitably across all parts of the UK and which provides varied employment at all entry levels. Furthermore, maintaining productive and profitable businesses across the food and drink supply chain not only contributes to our food security, but also means, with over two-thirds of our land used for farming, that our natural environment can be managed sustainably to protect our environment and help meet climate ambitions.

“A well-functioning supply chain also gives consumers access to a wide range of fresh produce and healthy food, is a crucial aspect of improving diets, alleviating pressure on the health service and improving health outcomes for our citizens.”

The letter sets out six urgent priorities for whichever party forms the next government to ensure British food is available at all price points, in an increasingly uncertain and unstable world. They include:

  • A planning system that allows investment in modern buildings and infrastructure
  • Work with the food and drink sector to deliver a plan to achieve our net zero ambitions
  • A coherent industrial policy that includes a tax framework incentivising investment, fosters research and innovation in the UK, takes a joined-up approach to immigration, skills and employment policies that ensure the sector has access to the labour it needs
  • An agricultural budget that enables the delivery of environmental objectives, delivers targets for climate and biodiversity
  • An approach to trade that seeks to reduce non-tariff barriers with key trading partners
  • A long-term partnership with industry to tackle obesity and health inequalities in communities across the UK

The letter, signed by NFU President Tom Bradshaw, British Retail Consortium Chief Executive Helen Dickinson, Karen Betts, Chief Executive, Food and Drink Federation, UK Hospitality Chief Executive Officer Kate Nicholls, concludes: “These policies are critical to the future health and prosperity of our nation. We should never take our food security for granted, and whoever forms the next government will need to address these issues as a priority.

”Taken together, these policies can provide the critical ingredient – confidence – that will allow industry to deliver a resilient food system, investing for the future, driving productivity, leading the way in energy efficiency, continuing the journey of protecting and enhancing the environment, and most of all, ensuring that British food remains on our shelves and available for all.”