MPs call for Government to urgently appoint Minister of Food Security

Posted: 31 July 2020 | | No comments yet

MPs from the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee have urged the Government to take immediate action on food insecurity in the UK – amidst the pandemic and beyond.

Food banks

Ministers should consider implementing a right to food as law and should appoint a ‘Minister of Food Security’, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee has suggested.

After the use of food banks almost doubled during lockdown and reports of hunger across the country surged, the cross-party group of MPs have called for the Government to urgently appoint a Minister to work across departments and make real change to the growing issue of food insecurity.

Although the MPs commended Defra’s response to the crisis, they highlighted the “significant knock-on effect of closures on suppliers, consumers and food aid organisations”. They also questioned why the Government appeared “unprepared” for disruptions despite seeing similar situations occurring in other countries.

Although food supplies continued thanks to cross-border movement, the MPs warned that the Government should not be complacent that this will always be the case, noting that possible future climate change crises or a challenging Brexit transition, for example, could pose future challenges.

The Committee therefore recommended that the Government reviews its resilience plans for the food sector and assess the extent to which the UK depends on “multi-national, just-in-time supply chains”.

Neil Parish MP, Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee, said: “The lockdown may have eased, but problems with food security are far from over. Food banks and other food redistribution organisations have reacted heroically to a shocking spike in demand for food aid, but this problem is likely to get worse before it gets better. It is therefore essential that the Government appoints a new Minister for Food Security who will stop this issue falling between the cracks.

“The Government’s actions to lock-down the country and close businesses were necessary, but they had huge impacts on the food sector and on food security. Defra’s response once the crisis hit was commendable, but despite warnings from other countries, it seemed as though the Government was constantly playing catch-up in trying to support the food industry during this crisis. The pandemic also highlighted our reliance on key workers, and I unreservedly thank those in the food supply chain whose work kept the nation fed throughout the crisis.

“In the future the Government will need to communicate better with the public. The voucher scheme for free school meals failed to recognise where families using them were likely to shop and encouraging everyone to shop online, when supermarkets had warned they would struggle to meet demand, set the scene for public frustration. We want the Government to learn lessons for the future.”

In response, Gareth Morgan, Head of Farming policy at the Soil Association, said: “The proposal for a Minister focussed on food security is welcome, but this should go much wider than food security: it would need to be cross Departmental and cover healthy diets, food poverty, resilience in the supply chain and the environmental footprint of food production, at home and abroad. Food production and the environment cannot be framed as opposing interests, given the context of the climate and ecological emergencies we face.”

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