Food shortages ‘alarmingly likely’ in the UK next year

December 22, 2023 in News by RBN Staff




Warning that global conflicts and climate change will lead to empty shelves

Food shortages are “alarmingly likely” in 2024 as climate change, transportation issues and global conflicts continue to affect supplies, a food security expert has said.

New checks will also be introduced on goods coming into the UK from the EU at the end of January, under the Border Target Operating Model (BTOM), further impacting food imports.

Professor Chris Elliott, of Queen’s University Belfast, said that fruit and vegetables would be particularly affected. It follows shortages of eggs and oil throughout 2023, with supermarkets forced to ration tomatoes and cucumbers due to poor weather in southern Europe in February.

Prof Elliott, who chaired the government inquiry into the 2013 horsemeat scandal said: “My expectation is, as we’ve already seen in 2023 with some empty supermarket shelves for months, this will become more persistent as we go forward.”

He added: “It’ll be about affordability but also availability, and the likelihood of empty shelves, particularly fresh produce shelves, in 2024 is alarmingly high.”

The food security expert said the potential shortages were caused by food insecurity in other countries, climate change and transportation issues. He also criticised the Government for a lack of a long-term plan and said the UK’s agricultural industry has collapsed.

supermarket shortages

Supermarkets were forced to ration tomatoes and cucumbers in February due to poor weather in southern Europe CREDIT: Jane Sherwood/Getty Images

Professor Elliott pointed to Singapore, which has introduced plans to grow up to 30pc of its own food by 2030, having relied almost exclusively on imports, as a good example for the UK to follow.

He said: “We are virtually totally dependent on other countries for most of our fresh produce, our fruit and our vegetables. We were reasonably self-sufficient in dairy, we were reasonably self-sufficient in poultry and eggs.

“But that’s also on the decline now as a result of the collapse of the food industry or sectors of the food industry in the UK.”

A 2021 food security report found that 46pc of food consumed in the UK in 2020 was imported.

Eggs, dairy, meat and other “high-risk” items will all be subject to more health checks at the border from January 31, which could slow the supply of food into the UK, the Institute of Export and International Trade warned.

Marco Forgione, of the Institute of Export & International Trade, said: “Whilst businesses in the UK are already getting used to checks on products going into the EU, the checks BTOM will introduce for EU goods coming the other way will be new.”

He said: “These new procedures will take some bedding in time, so there’s a risk we’ll see disruption to supplies of our favourite drinks and other food – which could lead to gaps in supermarket shelves.”

British retailers also face shipping chaos in the Panama and Suez canals, which continues to threaten supplies of consumer goods including wine and iPhones.

Two of the world’s biggest shipping companies confirmed on Friday that they would stop sending vessels through the Red Sea as a result of rising tensions in the Middle East, while BP said it would stop sending oil through the region on Monday.

AP Moller-Maersk and Maersk Tankers will avoid the trade route, meaning goods coming from Asia, including electronics, clothing and furnishings, may take weeks longer to arrive.

The National Farmers’ Union horticulture and potatoes board chair Martin Emmet has called for targets on British food production.

NFU President Minette Batters said: “We are asking for targets for British food production, just as the Government has rightly legislated for targets on the environment, green energy and climate change. Food has to be given the same status.”

A Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs spokesman said they did not recognise the claims and that the UK’s food chain is well equipped to deal with disruption.

The spokesman continued: “We produce 60pc of all the food we need here in the UK – figures which have changed little over the last 20 years – and our farming reforms are designed to back British farmers and maintain domestic food production.”

In relation to the concerns around the Border Trade Operating Model, the spokesman said disruption was not expected and that beer, wine and spirits would not be affected either by the new checks or by shipping disruptions.

“We remain committed to implementing the full controls set out in the Border Target Operating Model, which will reduce the burden on businesses and protect our food supply chains.”