Fringe Box



Opinion: Food Shortages – Government Needs to Think Healthy and Think Local

Published on: 7 Mar, 2023
Updated on: 8 Mar, 2023

By Roberta Sonnino

Professor of sustainable food systems at the University of Surrey

When Covid first hit, we were forced to quickly grow accustomed to empty shelves in our once well-stocked supermarkets. It’s been an on-off issue ever since, with different reasons cited: a shortage of lorry drivers, bird flu, and more.

The latest is, of course, salad veg owing to problems in Spain, where most of our winter supplies are grown.

Many (including certain turnip-eating politicians) would argue that it’s no bad thing for the British public to eat more seasonally, and there is value in that argument.

However, with high fuel prices and established ways of eating, salad shortages are hammering the diets of people in the UK. When crisis hits, it’s the vegetables, the backbone of a healthy and sustainable diet, which are quick to disappear.

The disruption in the supply of tomatoes, cucumber and peppers is a problem, but couple it with food price rises and it hits harder.

But where are the subsidies to tackle the impact on our consumption of healthy foods?

There’s a paradox across the whole globe: we’ve spent decades giving money to farmers, but the commoditisation of food means we provide too much of the wrong types of food. There are little or no subsidies for fruit and veg producers.

Two things suffer as a result: people’s health, especially those with lower incomes; and the environment.

When considering the multitude of problems, fingers also point at Brexit. The fact that European countries aren’t missing salad vegetables to the same extent as we have in the UK makes it hard to argue against the impact of leaving the EU.

Amongst other things, labour shortages caused by Brexit have left healthy products unpicked in fields.

But on the plus side, leaving the Common Agricultural Policy does offer an opportunity for UK farmers to be incentivised differently, at least.

In January, the government published its plans to offer farmers funding in return for up to 280 different actions that protect the environment, from conserving hedgerows or maintaining peatlands to growing organic fruit or establishing habitat for skylarks.

I can’t see that it will solve our system food supply issues, but it is a small step in the right direction.

What we need is more substantial, systemic change to make it financially rewarding for farmers to grow healthy foods. This is a priority globally, but it needs to start here in the UK.

Professor Roberta Sonnino, a global expert on sustainable food systems, said:  “Listen to people tackling the problem at local levels”.

Food is a connector that impacts everyone and everything: the economy, health, agriculture, environment, business, transport and more.

It’s an obvious priority but government responses are piecemeal and inadequate. We need collaboration and for governments to listen to the voices of people tackling the problem at local levels.

In our area, the Surrey Food Partnership brings together partners from across Surrey to take ownership and develop a food strategy and action plan that aim to combat food insecurity and malnutrition and tackle environmental issues within the food system, food waste and siloed thinking in policy making.

The local community in Guildford is also taking action into their hands to combat some of the current issues of the food system. Zero Carbon Guildford, for instance, has a community fridge to fight food waste, a zero-waste shop to reduce food packaging and a vertical farm to show the local community how to grow food indoors. No wonder it recently won the Climate Coalition’s Innovative UK Community Project award.

Community gardens like the Rosamund Community Garden also provide a space for learning more about food growing and building a community about food.

It’s these local groups which need voices for government to listen to.

Share This Post

Responses to Opinion: Food Shortages – Government Needs to Think Healthy and Think Local

  1. Ben Paton Reply

    March 8, 2023 at 7:00 am

    You cant grow food without land. Not all land is any good for growing food.

    So it makes no sense to concrete over Grade 2 and 3 prime agricultural Land.

    That’s what Guildford’s disastrous Local Plan proposes at Three Farms Meadow in Ockham.

    Government intervention to protect this prime agricultural land is long overdue.

  2. Jules Cranwell Reply

    March 8, 2023 at 4:54 pm

    It is self-evident that the GBC local plan is direly positioned to support local food production, as it proposes to destroy much-needed prime agricultural land for development on the ‘strategic sites’ of Gosden Hill, Blackwell Farm, and Three Farms Meadows in Ockham. Yet GBC continues to do nothing to revise this discredited plan.

    The UK can no longer afford to import 60 per cent of its food from overseas, and must drive to become self-sufficient.

  3. Mike Smith Reply

    March 12, 2023 at 11:06 am

    There’s something wrong with a country which has both labour shortages on farms and over a million people claiming unemployment benefits.

Leave a Comment

Please see our comments policy. All comments are moderated and may take time to appear.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *