UK’s food supply at risk from climate change and imports: report

By Oliver Morrison contact

- Last updated on GMT

©iStock/Alexandrum79
©iStock/Alexandrum79

Related tags: Brexit, Import, Climate change

A fifth of Britain’s fresh produce is imported from countries at risk of climate breakdown, while 40% of UK’s food is currently imported from overseas, says a report warning of food shortages.

Climate change and a high dependency on imported fresh food risks causing food shortages in the UK, according to MPs.

A report in the UK by the Environmental Audit Committee warns that environmental change and an over-reliance on imported produce will have major impacts on the country’s global food systems​, affecting its food security and ability to deliver healthy, sustainably produced diets.

“Nearly 20% of the UK’s fruit and vegetables come from countries at risk from climate breakdown,​” said Environmental Audit Committee Chair Mary Creagh.

The report raises concerns about the impact of food price rises on the poorest people in the UK, particularly vulnerable groups like children and pensioners, and complains that the UK government has ignored advice on food security from the Committee on Climate Change.

It called on the UK government to outline a clear plan for how the UK's food supplies could be protected, including publishing more details about the impact of a no-deal Brexit on the UK’s food chain, as outlined in Operation Yellowhammer.

“We are facing a food security crisis, exacerbated by uncertainty over the UK’s future trading position with the EU and the rest of the world. Ministers must now publish all the information they hold from Operation Yellowhammer on food security and likely costs in the event of a no-deal Brexit​,” said Creagh.

“More people are living in cities at risk from over-heating and water shortages, they’re breathing polluted air, eating more fast food and getting less exercise. What’s needed is a planetary health champion to put this agenda at the heart of government.”

Food production and security

  • We are deeply concerned about the impact of food price rises on the poorest people in the UK, particularly vulnerable groups like children and pensioners 
  • Government has ignored advice on food security from the Committee on Climate Change
  • Environmental change projected to have major impacts on global food systems, affecting UK food security and ability to deliver healthy, sustainably produced diets
  • Government should set out how it plans to maintain UK food security in a changing climate

Recognise the risks of imported food

The group of MPs urged the government to ensure that its new National Food Strategy​ recognises the risks to national food security from importing 40% of the UK’s food. It wants ministers to explore policies to mitigate these risks and ensure that the UK delivers healthy diets to all income groups, particularly the poorest, especially in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

Healthier, sustainable diets

It also called on the government to promote healthier, more sustainable diets to deliver benefits for people and the environment, including a reduction in meat and dairy consumption.

Degradation of systems that support human life ‘unprecedented’

The report found:

  • Systems that support human life rely on a healthy natural environment
  • Growing evidence that natural systems are being degraded to an extent unprecedented in human history
  • Current rates of extinction are at 100 – 1000 times more than what is considered natural biodiversity loss
  • Government's progress towards meeting the Aichi targets by 2020 falls woefully short

National Food Council

The group wants the UK to set up a National Food Council with policy covering food production, nutrition and public health to share data and expertise.

HFSS advertising restrictions

It called for further restrictions on the advertising of high fat, sugar and salt products and to “consider using financial incentives to promote access to, and consumption of, healthy food.”

Food waste targets

It wants the government to set annual targets to reduce food waste at every level of the food supply chain, consistent with the government’s aim to achieve net zero emissions by 2050 at the very latest.

Planetary health

Finally, the MPs demand ‘a single point of accountability’ for planetary health at both ministerial and senior civil service levels and champion planetary health at forthcoming international meetings.

Climate change and other stressors have led to a significant reduction in pollinating insects which help pollinate a wide range of crops, including many fruits and vegetables that are vital for a healthy human diet, the report reckons. Insect pollination is counted as an important form of reproduction for at least 87 types of common global food crops, accounting for more than a third of annual global food production by volume.

Action needed on food deserts

The report also complained that a lack of access to healthy food in  and proliferation of unhealthy fast food outlets in cities is leading to a rise in obesity. It says that people living in cities should be given access to healthy, sustainable food and found a proliferation of fast food outlets has encouraged a culture of unhealthy eating habits. It calls for more powers to councils to restrict fast food outlets in areas such as Birmingham where the Committee heard of children passing up to 10 fast food outlets on their way to school. “Better urban planning would also include the provision of more green spaces and active transport networks to encourage more active lifestyles​,” it said.

Related topics: Policy

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