Covid-19 commentary: “The food network during this crisis has systematically failed literally millions of UK citizens”

The quotation above is from section 3.1 of our Submission in response to the EFRA Commons Select Committee Call for Evidence: Covid and food supply of 22nd May 2020, accepted on 5th June.

I emphasise that it is a systematic failure, not the fault of commercial organisations and the voluntary sector who displayed impressive agility in rapidly reconfiguring their supply chains in response to consequences of lockdown, here and across the world.

The quotation in context:


Below is a brief summary of our Submission:

Part 1 said who we were, what we do and its relevance to our Covid-19 commentary.


Part 2: Hindsight: How prepared was the food system for Covid-19?
In summary, the UK was ill-prepared:

  • We identified thirteen features of the pre-Covid UK food system contributing to this state of affairs. Two of them, diet-related morbidities and the large number of UK citizens living in moderately and severe food insecure households, caused particular suffering during the pandemic.
  • Additionally, few policy-makers and decision-makers had evert taken food security threats seriously. A better understanding of possible scenarios would have equipped more players in the system to have responded better.


Part 3: UK system successes and failures in response to Covid-19
As stated above, the players in the system, both commercial and third sector/voluntary did their best. As a result, many UK households had and have access to sufficient supplies of safe, nutritious food.

Their response, however, revealed weaknesses and vulnerabilities in the system, including:

  • 3.1 Many citizens don’t have access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food (see above)
  • 3.2: The food system structure, notably these three elements:
    • 3.2.1: What effect will fewer SMEs have on food sector resilience?
    • 3.2.2: Processing, packaging and distribution capacity in the UK
    • 3.2.3: Primary production: UK-grown or imported produce, and the extra the risks the UK faces with a hard Brexit
  •  3.3: Logistics, logistics, logistics, always an issue in any crisis anywhere.
    Our dependence on food imports made the challenge more difficult, as did our lack of digital technology infrastructure to deal with on-line demand.
  • 3.4: Grower risks to workers and to food safety
    Specific risks to the wellbeing of workers and consumers with the relaxation in food sector regulation and virtual auditing.
  • 3.5: The safety of staff and customers in supermarkets; e.g. the first example in this blogpost.


Part 4: Time now for foresight? The beginnings of food system recovery?
We put forward these two points to consider regarding food system recovery, given its complexity:

  • 4.1: Pause and review pre-Covid decisions affecting food supply
    We outlined possibilities concerning Brexit negotiations, food sector regulations, the National Food Strategy, a universal basic income and local risk and resilience planning.
  • 4.2: Food system recovery: Using ratios and rates of change to support decision-making
    note: We outlined the usefulness of ratios to support decision-making regarding six aspects of the food system in this blogpost, and about rates of change in this one.

We concluded with this important message about  trust and governance:


This second Submission takes account of  our thinking during the three weeks of Covid and food supply events and sector responses since the Select Committee’s earlier deadline of 1st May when we made our initial submission.

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