According to several organisations and trade bodies, the coronavirus pandemic has affected the UK’s food supply chain. This includes in food production. For example, the National Farmers Union has said the dairy industry has been “hit severely”, which it largely attributes to the “almost complete closure” of food service and hospitality outlets. In distribution, freight organisations, for example, the UK Chamber of Shipping, have warned that without long-term financial support from the Government and fast-track coronavirus testing for its staff, the availability of imported food could be affected. Disruptions in the supply chain have also affected consumer access, for example with reports of panic-buying food items, resulting in shortages of some items, such as pasta and canned goods. Key workers and those self-isolating from the virus have experienced difficulties accessing food.
The Government and food industry have expressed confidence in the resilience of the UK’s food supply chain. The Government contends that supply chains remain “highly resilient”. This it owes to the capacity of food supply sectors and the “high degree” of being able to substitute food items. To further ensure the resilience of food supply chains, the Government has introduced several measures. They include loans for producers and large businesses, such as the coronavirus large business interruption loan; the temporarily relaxation of certain elements of competition law; and funding to allow ferry routes to continue operating. In addition, the latest government guidance on who can be tested for coronavirus now includes those involved in food production, processing, distribution, sale, and delivery.
Supermarkets have also sought to increase food availability for consumers, in particular key workers and those considered “vulnerable” by the Government. This has seen supermarkets introducing extended operating hours for vulnerable people, such as those aged 70 or above, and for key workers, and increasing the number of online delivery slots available.
However, there have been recent calls for a review of the just-in-time food supply chain and concerns about the UK’s reliance on food imports. The Government’s latest figures for the trade of food and drink show that 53 percent of UK food consumption in 2018 was supplied from within the UK. UN officials have recently discouraged countries from introducing protectionist food policies in response to coronavirus.