UK food supply chain vulnerability exposed by COVID-19

A study published in the journal, Nature Food  has highlighted the vulnerability of the UK food supply chain following the COVID-19 crisis.

The report, by scientists from the University of York, warns that the UK is “dangerously dependent” on the Netherlands and Spain for the bulk of its fresh vegetable imports. The country imports almost half of its food – as much as 84% of its fresh fruit – and is heavily reliant on EU countries for vegetables and salads.

The authors of the study say it is vital to build diversity and collaboration into the food supply chain for resilience in the COVID-19 recovery.

Professor Bob Doherty, Chair for the N8 AgriFood research programme at the University of York, said: “COVID-19 is creating – and will continue to create – problems for food sector organisations, including disrupting their ability to produce goods and services. Reduced production in one part of the network will have knock-on effects for production elsewhere.

“The UK Government – in partnership with the food industry – must rethink this reliance on such a vulnerable food system in the COVID-19 recovery period. How the UK can grow more of its own food sustainably should be considered whilst also maintaining good trade relations with our EU partners. A sensible joined-up farming and trade policy that is evidence-based is required. ”

The study also warns that the coronavirus pandemic could coincide with a ‘no deal’ Brexit, when the current transition period ends on 31st December 2020.

COVID-19 has highlighted the need for a good trade deal with the EU, not only for food imports but also for the supply of seasonal workers from the EU who come to the UK every year to help with the harvest.

Lead-author, Dr Philip Garnett, from York Management School, University of York added: “It is clear we need a new strategic plan to reorientate the UK food supply chain to grow more food sustainably in the UK.

“This will require new thinking and investment in British horticulture, a crop diversification strategy and assessment of the potential of new approaches such as indoor vertical farming.… there needs to be an investment in skills and training for farming combined with investment in digital automation.”

To read the full article go to Nature.

N8 AgriFood is a partnership of eight universities based in northern England. The group combines strong academic research in agri-food resilience and sustainability with professional research management and business development support.

For more information on Vertical farming, read our in-depth look at the sector The scope for Controlled Environment Agriculture in clean, green growth, written by Innovation Network Lead Dr Harry Langford.

For more information on CHAP’s capabilities designed to increase food security in the UK and beyond, go to Capabilities and CEA. If you have any questions about working with CHAP, please send us an email using the enquiries form at the bottom of our homepage.