UK food insecurity

The UK is suffering from food insecurity. There are gaps on our supermarket shelves and buying limits on salad vegetables. The insecurity runs deeper than that though. 

We are growing less and consuming more. We depend on Europe for imports and farm labour. The cost of producing our own food is increasing. We are also living with post-pandemic and post-Brexit shortages. There is war in Ukraine. And we are facing extraordinary climate change effects. 

Parliamentary research briefings from 2022 reveal a few worrying UK food facts. Brexit has had an impact on agriculture. Farmers are mid change from the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) to the UK’s Environmental Land Management (ELM) scheme (CDP 2022 0147). 

In 2020 the UK imported over 42% of its food requirements and 28% of our food came from the EU. In March 2022, agricultural stakeholders raised warnings about the Ukrainian conflict and the likely impact on our food imports (CDP 2022 0177). Ukraine is a major source of produce like sunflower oil, wheat and maize. 

UK farmers have been concerned about a lack of agricultural workers for years. In the 2020-2022 seasons Ukrainian workers made up a staggering 67% of the temporary workforce on UK farms. Fit and healthy Ukrainians are now involved in their country’s conflict and they are not applying for seasonal work visas for the UK. 

The cost of living increases have seen inflation rise to 11.1% in October 2022 – a forty year high – before reducing slightly to 10.1% in January 2023 (CPB-9607). The price of food, energy and fuel rose the most and this has partly contributed to the shortage of salad vegetables. 

Rising energy prices increase our UK food insecurity

The energy increases have meant that previously prolific UK producers of salad vegetables have not planted crops that will need to be heated in greenhouses (The Guardian). Green Acre Salads did not plant early cucumbers. They did it to survive. Their winter fuel bill could have cost them as much as £500,000 a month. 

The British Tomato Growers Association said many members have made the same choice not to plant. This has resulted in tomato-free pizzas in restaurants as the cost of tinned tomatoes has quadrupled in the last year, says Federazione Italian Cuochi UK (FIC UK) (The Guardian). The APS Group left one in twelve greenhouses empty this winter, for the first time in 75 years.

British production of salad vegetables is less than 60% of the amount required for our self-sufficiency (British Growers). UK grown tomatoes and cucumbers have nearly halved in production in the last 30 years, from 134,000 tonnes to 68,000 tonnes of tomatoes and 100,000 tonnes to 55,000 tonnes of cucumbers. This leaves us dependent on imports. 

A scarcity of leeks, carrots and cauliflower are next. The vagaries of climate have caused reductions in harvests, with very high and very low temperatures being recorded. On the plus side, we are growing more indigenous fruits and are 40% self-sufficient for these. 

British Growers want us to promote British produce and reduce our food insecurity. The industry employs over 100,000 people. It contributes £3 billion to the economy and food security increasingly matters as the population approaches 70 million. 

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Annette Clubley

Annette is a keen wildlife conservationist, mindful of sustainability and our impact on the environment. Outside of work, family is her focus and she loves teaching the next generation to enjoy the outdoors.