Food prices are going to rise – and rise substantially
Professor Chris Elliott looks at the current and future issues the food sector faces and criticises the UK government’s intervention – or lack of – in helping us overcome these obstacles.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to meet face to face with a number of food industry leaders (and oh how I missed these first-hand discussions during the pandemic period!). We covered a lot of ground, and the insights that I was able to glean were extremely valuable, allowing me to assess both the current key issues and what future challenges lie ahead.
Among these obstacles is the fact that food prices will rise substantially. There are many factors driving this increase, including Brexit and the subsequent impacts it is having, in particular around labour shortages.
We have seen the pictures of crops rotting in UK fields as there isn’t the migrant workforce to harvest them; and we have read the stories about a lack of HGV drivers in the UK because many European drivers went back to their home countries. Not as widely published, is the massive shortage of workers in the food manufacturing sector; many companies are reporting they have vacancy rates between 15 to 20 percent.
It’s fair to say the food industry is in a very bad place. Moreover, the sector is beyond frustrated with how the government has handled – or more accurately mishandled – the post-Brexit period. It seems to be more important that the mantra of taking back control is preserved rather than taking back responsibility for having a properly functioning national food system. It will be very interesting to see how this plays out; history has shown us time and time again that when the price of food increases, the party in power loses votes.
There are, of course, external factors that will contribute to the rising cost of the foods we buy. The pandemic has caused chaos in some supply chains, especially around logistics. The cost of freight is rocketing and this will have a knock-on effect on the cost of our food. I’m told that this will last for several years at best.
There is also the burning issue of climate change. More and more crop failures have been reported due to extensive temperatures and drought. One industry source said to me that the worry does not stem from where we will next source our food from, but rather a case of whether we’ll be able to source food at all.
The obvious way to try and mitigate against this real threat to food prices and availability is to grow more food at home. I’m afraid, again, I raise question over whether our government really understand this and if they’re willing to invest in the growth of a climate friendly and sustainable agriculture industry in the UK that produces healthy and nutritious food. I certainly do not see any signs that there is comprehension of what is needed and how to develop the appropriate polices to drive food sovereignty in the UK.
So while this article might seem to be a bit of a government bashing (which it is), we as consumers must play a role in trying to reduce the scale of the coming hike in food prices. And let’s face it, we all have a vested interest to do this. The best way is to really think about the amount of food we waste; we often hear that over a third of all food is wasted, but how many know that 70 percent of this waste occurs in the home? We all (myself included) must think about practical ways to take back control about what and how much we purchase.