The Farmers’ Union of Wales (FUW) has highlighted the current impact of the coronavirus pandemic for Welsh food producers and the dangers of trade and rural support policies which undermine UK food security in evidence to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Select Committee.
Responding to the EFRA Select Committee inquiry on Covid-19 and food supply, the FUW said that UK food supply chains have been severely disrupted by the current pandemic and the measures put in place to prevent its transmission, causing a seismic shift in how UK and EU supply chains function and drastic falls in farmgate prices across agricultural sectors.
“The rapid closure of food service sector outlets as a result of lockdowns in the UK and on the continent have had particularly severe impacts on prices for milk, beef and lamb, with such impacts coming at a time when seasonal agricultural production is increasing as days lengthen and temperatures rise,” said FUW Head of Policy Dr Nick Fenwick.
“Our response also makes it clear that the pandemic exposes the degree to which trade deals and domestic policies which undermine food production, active farmers and family farms would expose the UK population to food shortages and disruption in the event of a future pandemic or emergency,” said Dr Fenwick.
The pandemic has hit countries across the world at a time when the UK Government was in the process of negotiating post-Brexit trade deals with the EU and other countries - deals which many fear will lead to more reliance on food imports from distant countries, thereby undermining UK food security, while also severing ties with our most important export markets and trading partners in the EU.
“The panic buying in early March gave us a taste of what food shortages really look like, and many products are still difficult to get hold of.
“In countries around the globe which rely more on food imports the impacts are far more acute, both in terms of shortages and steep increases in food prices, and the pandemic should be a stark warning to those who wish to undermine our family farms, food production and food security,” he added.
The United Nations is warning of a massive spike in food insecurity in East Africa as a direct result of the pandemic, while the World Food Programme is warning that well over 40 million people are facing food shortages in West Africa.
Meanwhile, in Singapore - which only in February was cited by a UK Treasury advisor as an example of a country ‘which is rich without having its own agricultural sector' - disruptions to food supplies have led the authorities to accelerate local food production, including through plans to turn car park rooftops into farms.
“Our evidence to the Committee makes clear the folly of policies which increase exposure to the dangers of the current and future pandemics or other global emergencies,” said Dr Fenwick.
“That includes policies which further decouple rural support from food production, active farmers and the family farm, as is currently proposed by both Defra and the Welsh Government.
“The UK and Welsh Governments need to urgently revise these plans in light of the clear evidence from the UK and around the world, as they would further expose the UK population to food shortages and disruption in the event of a future pandemic or emergency,” he added.