Covid-19 commentary: The food supply network on 20th March 2020

This is our first blogpost of a series giving a running commentary on the reconfiguring of the food network that’s happening in front of our eyes.

I wrote my last blogpost, Covid-19 and its impact on the food supply system only five days ago, with additional comments (about labour and logistics) two days ago after talking with a fresh produce wholesaler.

What we indicated has been panning out rapidly over these last few days; e.g.

  • The UK Government’s responsibilities
    HMG still doesn’t accept it is their responsibility to ensure sufficient supplies of safe, nutritious food to the UK population; for example, see this tweet here. (We made it clear in our Response to the National Food Strategy Call for Evidence that it was.)

    • This tweet from Professor Tim Lang said that from midnight tonight, food workers are to be classed as ‘key workers’. He continued to say We urgently need a national scheme of rationing based on nutritional guidance not ad hoc led by retailers. Not their fault. It is Gov’s job.
  • The role of UK agriculture in feeding the nation
    The Government’s post-Brexit notion that UK food production can be run down is called out as ‘dangerous’ by Richard Hyde from Hereford Markets on Farming Today on Thursday 19th March.
  • People laid off are applying for jobs planting on farms
    Fruit and veg farmers are reporting a huge upsurge in offers to work, from people laid off in hospitality sector, not only keen to work and be paid, also to contribute to the needs of the UK population.

    • The challenge will be how to get people from urban areas to the farms and back. On Farming Today (today, 20th March), one farmer explained transporting workers was part of what they do, with vans, buses and, if necessary, accommodation on the farms.
      • Labour in Spain is already affected by restrictions on the movement of people. (It was reported to me on 17th March that only two people were allowed per vehicle there, which was time-consuming and costly — price rises passed on to wholesalers here.)
      • It seems likely (and increasingly urgent) there will be similar restrictions here; the epicentre of the pandemic in the UK is currently London and restrictions will be put in place very soon there. Then what?
  • Demand side surges are strain the supply system
    • See, for example, this FT report: UK food supply starts to show the strain
    • Retailers are setting up systems to control demand, fuelled in great part by the sight of empty shelves: e.g.
      • They are cutting  the number of lines on offer.
      • Shoppers can only purchase two or three items of certain lines.
      • The first hour of opening at some supermarkets for one day a week is reserved for the over 70s and people who are more vulnerable owing to underlying medical conditions.
      • Retailers, from large supermarkets to small companies like Riverford (who provide boxed fruit’n’veg) are investing in systems and people to respond to the surge in demand for home deliveries
      • Security guards are seen in the larger supermarkets, and there is talk in the media of bringing in the police to help control shoppers.
  • Food manufacturers’ responses
  • Logistics
  • The Army has put 20,000 reservists on standby,  as reported here on Sky News.


note: Covid-19 is more precise term is the name of the disease than the more commonly used ‘coronavirus’.

The reason why is because there are lots of corona viruses. Some don’t cause any disease, harm, some give us a cold, and some that are seriously more dangerous to us than Covid-19, such as MERS or SARS.

Note, too, that Covid-19 is a specific name for a disease, a coronavirus disease.

The specific name of the virus that causes this Covid-19 disease is SARS-COV-2, that is severe acute respiratory coronavirus 2.

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