China’s food security could have harsh consequences on UK

Posted: 7 September 2020 | | No comments yet

As China deals with the impacts of covid and rural flooding, food prices are set to rise, opening up opportunities for fraudsters.

Chris' CornerThere is an air of concern lingering in the UK as we all (rightly so) fret about the uncertainty of covid and what may lie ahead in the winter.

From my perspective and readers of New Food, what will happen with our food supply over the coming months is a topic of huge interest and one many are worried about. Food prices have risen globally for three consecutive months, pressures on food manufacturing in the UK in terms of managing covid outbreaks are mounting, and we have the potential of a no deal Brexit to contend with and all the mayhem that that will cause.

Yet my attention has been, at least in part, turned to what is happening in China in terms of their food supply system. I have worked in China for many years and know that food is a major part of their culture. An adequate supply of food has played a major part in the stability of the country and its Government has always taken a very central role in ensuring its food security. Over recent years, the focus has been on improving the food safety standards in the country due to a number of scandals that badly impacted on consumer confidence.

However, just a few weeks ago, I started to pick up signals that all was not well in China in relation to food security. President Xi Jinping announced the ‘Clean Plate’ campaign against food waste calling the amount wasted as “shocking and distressing”. Of course, like many countries around the world, driving down the amount of food waste has been a priority and for China to follow suit should be no surprise. But looking a little more deeply into China’s food system, there are several large alarm bells ringing.

The impact of African Swine Fever (ASF), which decimated the pork industry in the country and left a deficit in animal protein, opened the door for a surge in the bush meat market, which, in my opinion, may well have been a major contributing factor to the current pandemic. The covid outbreak led to harvesting problems in China, but the most serious issue that I am aware of is the country’s massive climate related flooding occurring in many agricultural regions. This has caused huge problems in China, including the failure of a lot of crops.

I have kept in good contact with many friends and colleagues in China; they tell me there are no food shortages in the major cities, but they are seeing a noticeable spike in food prices. Rural China may well be more impacted in terms of food availability.

So should the UK be concerned about these events in China in terms of its own food security? There is the saying that ‘When China sneezes, the world catches a cold’. I envision the shortages in China will result in a greater demand for imports into the country, which will, in turn, further fuel the prices hikes we are seeing now. China is also an important exporter of food, with exports of agri-food commodities amounted to nearly £50 billion in 2019. The likelihood for this to reduce this year and the next is substantial and will have further implications for price rises in some commodities and ingredients.

I am also concerned about the impact this will have on food fraud. One of the major drivers for food fraud in perturbations is supply and demand and we may well see this on a massive scale. The potential for products coming out of China to be adulterated in some way increases, and so too does the opportunity for products to be fraudulently labelled as ‘from China’ when they most certainly are not.

I believe a heightened level of vigilance to check that such goods are not entering the UK marketplace is now warranted.

China’s food security will no doubt impact the rest of the world, and as concerned as we are with what’s happening in the UK, I suggest we also keep a close eye on the unfolding events in the world’s most populated country.

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