Britain ‘unprepared’ for rising food prices and shortages from war in Ukraine

Britain is unprepared for the huge hikes in food prices and shortages of essential goods triggered by the war in Ukraine, the head of a government advisory body fears.

Ian Wright told it The Independent amid growing concerns that there is no real plan for a “scary” food-disrupted future, warning: “This is a bigger crisis than energy.”

Russia’s blockade of Black Sea ports has stranded 25 million tonnes of grain in Ukraine – a looming famine in the poorest countries, but with dire consequences for the UK, which relies on food imports.

Cooking oil, used in chips, ready meals, cookies and mayonnaise, is already rationed while rising fertilizer and feed prices hit domestic production.

There are fears that stocks of food donated by charities and community groups – coordinated by an organization with no government funding – will run out as millions more flock to lunch clubs and homeless shelters.

The looming crisis will come to a head at a Food and Drink Sector Council (FDSC) crunch meeting on Tuesday, when industry insiders will ask what preparations have been made.

Mr Wright said: “I don’t think the government has fully grasped the implications of all this. It could be quite scary, with significant price hikes and food poverty.

“Many people involved with the food industry feel that this issue now requires greater urgency and focus from government to ensure the country is getting the food it needs.

“This is a bigger crisis than energy. If the government has plans, they must spread those plans.”

The fears were echoed by the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) and food redistribution organization FairShare, which accused ministers of letting 2 million tonnes of edible food go to waste every year.

Minette Batters, the president of the NFU, said successive governments had neglected food production and warned: “It was short-sighted. It now looks immoral.

“We can and should produce more, for Germany and abroad. We just need a proper nutrition strategy adopted by the government.”

The criticism comes after consumer champion Martin Lewis warned that rising fuel and food bills could spark domestic unrest, saying: “I’m concerned about civil unrest.”

Boris Johnson has been urged to copy Joe Biden by organizing a ‘hunger summit’ to draw attention to the crisis – but No10 is yet to respond, The Independent can reveal.

Ministers have also ignored requests from two Commons committees to appoint a “Food Poverty Minister” to push through interdepartmental action to ensure supplies.

On Tuesday, Food and Agriculture Secretary Victoria Prentis and her officials will be asked to provide evidence that the government knows which supply chains are most likely to collapse due to the Ukraine blockade.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is also under pressure to promote “homegrown food” by protecting farmgate prices for farmers hit by rising fertilizer and feed bills.

Although the UK supplies 60 per cent of its food, this is an annual average – and the proportion drops closer to 40 per cent as winter approaches.

A third strand of the strategy is to dramatically increase the number of food items donated, it is argued, in anticipation that hundreds of thousands more people will need it in the coming months.

FareShare Chief Executive Lindsay Boswell said The Independent: “More than 2 million tons of edible food is wasted on farms and in factories every year – food that could keep people from going hungry.

“But the UK government is not funding food redistribution. Therefore, it is cheaper for farmers to waste tasty food than it ends up on people’s plates.”

A study has shown larger benefits of £14 for every £1 spent on food redistribution, but – unlike in France, where there are tax incentives – FairShare relies on donations from charities and businesses.

Last week, Bank of England Governor Andrew Bailey warned of the “apocalyptic” impact of the Ukraine conflict, telling MPs there was “no way the food could be sent and it’s getting worse”.

Mr Wright, the former head of the Food and Drink Federation, said Brexit – which is estimated to have pushed up food prices by 6 per cent – and Covid are just a taste of what is to come.

“We are now likely to see the impact on the food supply of Putin’s plans to make it as difficult as possible for the West,” he warned.

However, Defra argued that the UK has “an extremely resilient food supply chain that has responded well to unprecedented challenges”.

“We are largely self-sufficient in wheat production, self-sufficient in beef, fully self-sufficient in liquid milk, we produce more lamb than we consume and we are also nearly 100 percent self-sufficient in poultry,” a spokesman said. Britain ‘unprepared’ for rising food prices and shortages from war in Ukraine

Bobby Allyn

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