UK Parliament investigating food prices amid high inflation

The U.K.’s Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Committee is investigating the nation’s food security in response to pressures facing food producers and rising food prices.

The U.K.’s Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Committee is investigating the nation’s food security in response to pressures facing food producers and rising food prices.

The inquiry will look into the factors currently affecting the availability of food, including the continuing impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine, and explore the outlook for food price inflation, the committee said in a press release. The committee will also investigate how the pressures on supply chain are affecting consumers’ access to healthy and nutritious food as well as their impact on U.K. businesses.

The Institute of Grocery Distribution, a research firm, has predicted food price inflation will hit 15 percent in the coming months in the U.K., and the Bank of England has warned current supply-chain disruption could last into 2023.

“Our food producers are facing extremely challenging times – with rising energy and fertilizer prices as well as the war in Ukraine. These pressures are now also being felt by consumers,” EFRA Committee Chair Sir Robert Goodwill said.

EFRA will examine whether government proposals in its recent national food strategy paper “will affect resilience in the food supply chain, improve access to good quality food, and support farmers, fishers, and food producers,” the committee said. The strategy calls for government support to increase domestic food production, including millions of pounds of investment in seafood-related infrastructure, research, and innovation. Around three-quarters of the types of food the U.K. can produce are supplied by its own farmers, producers, and growers, according to Goodwill.

“We want to start a debate about whether that’s the right level and what that means for how we use our land and the priority we put on food production,” Goodwill said. “The government is not responsible for all the problems facing food supply chains, but it is essential it does all it can to help manage these pressures as it implements its new food strategy.”

The public and stakeholders can submit evidence related to the inquiry by 30 September.

The government inquiry comes as U.K. consumers say they their trust in food has declined by 8 percent, according to new research from YouGov commissioned by Red Tractor.

Nearly half (46 percent) said they are changing what they buy in order to afford food for their families. Twenty-four percent said they are trading down and buying what they perceive to be food produced to lower food safety and animal welfare standards.

While 78 percent of people said they trusted the safety and quality of food purchased from supermarkets, only 58 percent said they trust supermarkets this year.

“The striking 20 percent change in trust suggests that as people switch and trade down to value ranges, the standards for these ranges are assumed to be weaker,” Red Tractor said in a press release. “However, when it comes to food and farming, the U.K. is one of the most regulated countries in the world. The strict regulations on food safety, animal welfare, or environmental protection apply to value lines which use assured British produce.”

In fact, 55 percent of shoppers who trust U.K. food said the U.K.’s system of high standards and regulation was their number one reason for doing so.

“Assurance schemes and labeling also play a major role in confidence,” Red Tractor said.

Nearly 70 percent of people look to food marks and assurance schemes to ensure food is safe and produced to a high quality. British Lion, Red Tractor, and Fair Trade are the most-recognized, according to the survey of 3,500 people.

The investigation comes as a range of factors is having a profound impact on the U.K.’s foodservice and food retail sectors. Losses at the top 100 restaurant groups rose to more than GBP 800 million (USD 973 million, EUR 943 million) in the first six months of 2022, according to UHY Hacker Young, per The Guardian. And the number of restaurants falling into insolvency has increased by more than 60 percent in the past year due to soaring inflation and worker shortages. Around 1,400 restaurants in the U.K. closed their doors in the 12 months to May, up 64 percent compared to the previous year.

Inflation is also dampening U.K. grocery sales, including sales of chilled fish. Overall U.K. chilled fish sales dropped 8 percent year-on-year to GBP 493.3 million (USD 600 million, EUR 588 million) for the quarter ending 12 June, according to research firm Kantar.

“This fall in volume compared to the relatively better volume performance of chicken suggests that some shoppers may be trading out of relatively more-expensive added-value products and [moving] into cheaper proteins that can stretch further,” Kantar said in its meat, poultry, and fish market update.

Like-for-like grocery price inflation reached 9.9 percent for the month ending 12 June – the second-highest level of grocery inflation that Kantar has seen since it started tracking prices in 2008, Kantar Head of Retail and Consumer Insight Fraser McKevitt said in a press release.

“And we’re likely to surpass the previous high come August,” McKevitt said.

Photo courtesy of Marius_Comanescu/Shutterstock


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