NewsEuropeNot enough fruit and vegetables in the UK: why so many shortages?

Not enough fruit and vegetables in the UK: why so many shortages?

Hit by a wave of shortages of certain fruits and vegetables, British supermarkets are forced to ration the quantities distributed. A situation that should still last to the point of raising fears of a rise in prices. But how did the country come to this? While most officials point to poor weather conditions and rising energy prices, some observers point the finger at Brexit.

No more than three tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers per person. As the UK is hit by a shortage of certain fruit and vegetables, several chain stores are being forced to ration the number of products per customer.

The UK government has blamed the shortages on extreme weather conditions in Spain and North Africa – where most of the fruit and vegetables consumed in the UK come from at this time – which affected harvests.

The British Retail Consortium (BRC), a trade union that represents British retailers, assures that shortages are expected to last “a few weeks” until the growing season in the United Kingdom begins and stores find relief. other sources of supply.

While vegetables are lacking and the Minister of the Environment has caused an uproar by suggesting that the British consume fewer tomatoes and more turnips, tempers are heated around the causes of this situation. While most versions point to weather conditions and rising energy prices as the main culprits for these shortages, an accusing finger is also pointed at the government and Brexit.

Extreme weather conditions

Exceptionally cold weather in Spain, floods in Morocco, not to mention the storms which seriously disrupted the transport of goods… All of these factors notably help to explain the shortage suffered by the United Kingdom which, during the winter months, imports around 95% of its tomatoes and 90% of its lettuces from Spain and North Africa, according to the BRC.

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But in the United Kingdom too, the ground was favorable to provoke such a situation. A few months earlier, several heat waves led to the fourth hottest summer on record in the UK, with temperatures above 40°C for the first time. In December, the country was then hit by a series of frosts acute and prolonged.

Difficult, therefore, for the United Kingdom to rely on its local producers, or even on those of the Netherlands, another of its major food trading partners. Because to cope with rising electricity prices, farmers in both countries have had to reduce the use of greenhouses to focus on winter crops.

energy crisis

In the wake of the war in Ukraine, the Netherlands has been hit hard by the energy crisis. “Energy was 200% more expensive in September than in the same month last year,” compared to 151% in August, the Dutch Central Statistical Office (CBS) said last October.

The fifth largest economy in the European Union (EU), the Netherlands, which is trying to end its dependence on Russian gas, now has one of the highest inflation rates in Europe, reports Le Figaro.

Chief executive of Nationwide Produce, one of the UK’s biggest fresh food producers, Tim O’Malley, said on Tuesday that shortages could lead to price hikes in the coming weeks. The announcement comes as food prices are already rising at their fastest pace in 45 years, climbing 16.7% in the year to January.

British distributors will then have to find other sources of supply and rely on harvests from local producers. The National Farmer’s Union, the main agricultural union in the country, has asked the government for a support plan for producers. According to AFP, 168 million pounds, or 190 million euros, have already been paid to British farmers.

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Owner of a café near Manchester, Rachael Flaszczak explained to the BBC that she was struggling to supply herself with eggs, tomatoes, spinach and arugula. “We go to the supermarket to try to get our stock for the next day, but we only see empty and overturned boxes,” she says, going so far as to mention a completely different cause. “There is no shortage there [dans l’UE]so it must have something to do with Brexit.”

A consequence of Brexit?

According to the National Farmers Union (NFU), which counts the Brexit rules as one of the causes of the situation the United Kingdom is going through today, shortages of certain fruit and vegetables could be the “emergent part of the iceberg”.

In the columns of the Guardian, the vice-president of the NFU estimated that the shortage was also probably an indirect consequence of the decision of the United Kingdom to leave the EU.

“It’s really interesting that before Brexit, we didn’t get our supplies, or very little, from Morocco,” he explains. “But we were forced to look further, and now these increasingly frequent climatic shocks have had a real impact on the food available on our shelves”.

A position shared by several experts such as Justin King, ex-CEO of Sainsbury’s (the second largest supermarket chain in the United Kingdom), who declared on LBC radio that the supermarket sector has been “horribly affected” by Brexit.

On social networks, many European Internet users have shared photos of their well-stocked supermarket shelves to expose the reality of recent food shortages across the Channel.

On Twitter, lead singer of British pop group Simply Red, Mick Hucknall, called on his followers in mainland Europe to post pictures of their supermarket shelves, also implicitly blaming Brexit.

“In fairness, can some of our friends in mainland Europe post pictures of their supermarket food shortages?”

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Many – especially in France – acceded to his request.

Analyzing the factors responsible for the shortages, Save British Farming Association chair Liz Webster said: “The reason we have food shortages in the UK and they don’t have food shortages in Spain – or anywhere else in the European Union – is Brexit, and also because of this disastrous Conservative government that has no interest in food production, farming or even food supply.”

In an interview given to the LBC, the latter affirms that the only solution to food shortages is to return to the single market and the customs union “as soon as possible”.

When asked in Farming Today on BBC Radio 4, crop science specialist Jim Monaghan was more nuanced. “Of the companies I spoke to, none told me Brexit had made it easier. There is a range of opinions on the extent of the problem: finding labor has become more difficult, as is crop trading between Europe and the UK, but there are also other issues that are not related to Brexit,” he said. Among these, the disastrous climatic conditions and the energy crisis, but also the transport problems caused by the recent strikes.

Most British wholesalers, importers and retailers seem to brush aside the Brexit hypothesis, arguing that shortages are also seen in Ireland, yet a member of the EU, reports the BBC. For them, it is more about weaker domestic production, more complex supply chains and a more price-sensitive market.

Source: France 24


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