Food policy experts call on Prime Minister to enact rationing immediately to prevent food shortages

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The UK Government needs to enact rationing immediately to prevent food shortages exacerbating the Coronavirus crisis, three eminent food academics have warned.

Professors Erik Millstone, of the University of Sussex Business School, Tim Lang, of the University of London, and Terry Marsden, of Cardiff University, have written to the Prime Minister criticising his Government’s response to stockpiling as “weak and unconvincing”.

They have called for immediate action to safeguard the 8.4 million UK residents at risk of food insecurity and warned that food banks cannot cope with the current demand. 

The trio warn that most of the UK's fresh fruit, vegetables and salads come from the two European countries with most cases of Corvid-19Spain and Italy, whose supplies could diminish rapidly if there are insufficient numbers available to pick, pack and transport them or if their national governments insist that produce should be kept for their domestic consumers. 

They also warn that UK residents are set to buy even more food at supermarkets now that pubs, cafes and restaurants have all closed.  

The academics warn that shortage of supplies will impact on residents’ diets and will weaken immune systems. They also warn that the current crisis risks exacerbating diet-related inequalities, which could have long-term adverse consequences.

The letter also notes that while The Coronavirus Bill empowers authorities to obtain information about potential disruptions to food supply, they have no additional powers to resolve those disruptions.

They recommend the Government take immediate action to:

1) Initiate a health-based food rationing scheme to see the country through this crisis. This should start from Public Health England’s Eatwell Plate and draw on expertise from the devolved administrations, and relevant disciplines.

(2) Rapidly review options for ensuring people on low incomes have sufficient money to buy a decent diet. Cash injections for people in receipt of welfare benefit is needed and potentially a national voucher scheme redeemable for nutritionally sound purchases such as fruit and vegetables.

(3) Ensure that nutritionally appropriate food can and will be delivered to all those who self-isolate or are quarantined. 

(4) Initiate a new Food Rationing Scheme which is open, equitable and based on health needs, taking account of age, income, and vulnerability, to be applied UK-wide. 

(5) Amend the Agriculture Bill, currently before Parliament, to include a new clause to ensure that the people of the United Kingdom will be fed well, healthily, equitably and sustainably. 

Prof Millstone, Emeritus Professor at the Science Policy Research Unit at the University of Sussex, said: The Coronavirus crisis has revealed weaknesses in our ‘just-in-time’ food distribution system. 

"Thirty years ago the UK’s food retailers carried 10-12 days of stock, now they have just 24-36 hours of stock.

"It is all in trucks or on the shelves; in pursuit of ‘efficiency’ and cost-cutting the system has lost its resilience.

"We need to rebuild resilience for our food system and reduce our reliance on imports and just-in-time deliveries.

"We must also ensure that the food we have is equitably distributed.”




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By: Neil Vowles
Last updated: Monday, 23 March 2020