NFU says it needs to learn the lessons of current market failure and collaborate with Defra to ensure future stability for both farmers and consumers
The National Farmers Union (NFU) has urged Defra to establish an ‘horizon-scanning’ Food Intelligence Unit to monitor and inform ministers of current and future risks facing markets.
It comes in the wake of significant fruit and vegetable shortages across the UK. Under the proposal, the core of the unit would be led by government, with the ability to recruit advice from experts from within the farming industry and supply chain.
These experts would be able to help direct Defra’s use of its powers under the Agriculture Act to request ‘the right data from the right sources’ and assess and advise on the implications for the supply chain for farmers, growers and consumers.
NFU President, Minette Batters described the “unwelcome political turmoil of the past year” as posing great risks to farm businesses in England and Wales.
She also pointed to labour shortages, soaring energy prices and huge inflation costs with fertilisers up 169%, energy up 79% and animal feed up 57% since 2019.
NFU Head of Food and Farming, Phil Hambling said: “We forecast very early on during the Ukraine crisis many of the problems that the supply chain is now experiencing.
“We see this as market failure as demonstrated by the gaps on supermarket shelves. Specifically, in eggs and horticulture, we raised the alarm about this. We need to learn the lessons and collaborate with Defra to avoid a repeat of these problems and provide stability for farmers and consumers.”
“Local actors in these supply chains must be able to anticipate disruptions, and put measures in place to avoid and/or mitigate them. The NFU’s call for a Food Intelligence Unit is not only timely, but critical.”
The NFU’s call for a Food Intelligence Unit was welcomed by Andrew Dicker, Logistics Manager at UKHarvest.
He said: “The present shortages are the effect of concurrent disruptions to various food supply chains. Local British production has been limited over the past few years for a variety of reasons, but the war in Ukraine and its impact on energy costs and fertiliser availability further exacerbated local production quantities. Adverse weather conditions in Morocco and Spain have also contributed.
“To mitigate against future shortages, local actors in these supply chains must be able to sense and anticipate disruptions, and put measures in place to avoid and/or mitigate them. Thus, the NFU’s call for a Food Intelligence Unit is not only timely, but critical.”
When asked about the need for a Food Intelligence Unit at the NFU Annual Conference in February, Mark Spencer, Food and Farming Minister responded by saying that “Defra is the department for food security”.
He added: “I have asked retailers to look again at how they work with our farmers and how they buy fruit and vegetables, so they can further build our preparedness for these unexpected incidents, and I welcome their commitment to working with government and farmers on longer-term solutions.”
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