Food aid organisations and the food industry have expressed their alarm about Government 'passing the buck' on food supplies to for people in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
In a letter published by The Grocer magazine on 19 September 2019, the group, led by Sustain, make clear their concerns that the Government is refusing to accept basic responsibility for ensuring vulnerable people get the food they need in the event of disruption, shortages or price hikes.
In answer to a parliamentary question from Caroline Lucas MP, who had asked about food supplies for vulnerable people, Defra Minister Zac Goldsmith MP said:
“Defra is not responsible for the supply of food and drink to the population in an emergency, and the expertise, capability and levers to plan for and respond to food supply disruption lie within the industry.”
However, leading food industry representatives contest this assumption and join Sustain in saying that:
"This raises very troubling questions about basic responsibilities for ensuring that vulnerable people get the food they need in a crisis.”
Kath Dalmeny, chief executive of the Sustain food and farming alliance said:
“When asked about who had responsibility for vulnerable people in the event of food supply interruptions, the UK government pointed to the food industry. But our letter shows the food industry is alarmed by this response and want to see answers on where legal responsibility lies.
“The government simply cannot pass the buck on food supplies; they have urgent questions to answer. Just who is responsible for food supplies in the event of a no-deal Brexit? How do they intend to ensure schools, hospitals, care homes and frontline charities get the food they need to feed the vulnerable, and how do they intend to cushion the blow of food shortages and price hikes to those on low incomes?”
Here is the longer version of the co-signed letter published online by The Grocer on 19 September 2019; a shorter version appears in the print edition of the magazine.
We were dismayed that the Government officially stated last week that it has no legal responsibility to help vulnerable people get the food they need in the event of a no-deal Brexit, or indeed any other emergency situation in which the nation’s food supply is seriously disrupted or if food prices rise significantly. Further, that Government expects the commercial food industry to secure food supplies for vulnerable people currently served by frontline charities and food banks.
As representatives of some of the nation’s leading food industry, distribution and food aid organisations, we strongly contest these assumptions and suggest they raise very troubling questions about basic responsibilities for ensuring that vulnerable people get the food they need in a crisis.
The surplus food redistribution charity FareShare has told Defra that if the 9,000 or so frontline groups that serve meals to extremely vulnerable people needed to buy their food direct, it would cost in the region of £5 million per month. This is the sort of budget that only national government can find, from their £6 billion Brexit contingency fund.
Meanwhile, the Trussell Trust and Independent Food Aid Network have strongly opposed the assumption that food banks – already over-stretched – could or should meet significantly increased demand for emergency food parcels. They call for cash welfare payments to help people buy the food they need.
Yet there was no sign of any such financial provision in the Chancellor’s September Spending Review. With EU Exit Day just six weeks away, the Welsh and Scottish Governments have made some money available to help vulnerable people secure access to food. The UK Government must immediately make available hardship funds to ensure vulnerable people can get the food they need in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
Signatories to the joint letter are:
Kath Dalmeny, Chief Executive, Sustain: The alliance for better food and farming
Andrew Kyuk, Director General of the Provision Trade Federation, the trade association representing companies who trade or manufacture provisions such as dairy products, cheese, butter, milk powders, yogurt and other short-life dairy desserts; bacon, ham and seafood
James Bielby, Chief Executive, Federation of Wholesale Distributors, whose members distribute food, drink and associated products to over 450,000 retail and catering businesses in the UK
Lindsay Boswell, Chief Executive, FareShare, the UK's largest charity fighting hunger and food waste, saving good food from going to waste; redistributing it to frontline charities
Sabine Goodwin, Coordinator, Independent Food Aid Network, a network of independent, grassroots food aid providers working to secure food security for all
Laura Winningham, Chief Executive, City Harvest London, putting fresh surplus food to good use in a sustainable way, by redistributing to organisations that feed the hungry
Read a blog on this issue by Sustain's chief executive Kath Dalmeny, also containing a link to Sustain's briefing on the scale of need for food for vulnerable people in the type of no-deal Brexit scenario portrayed in the Government's Operation Yellowhammer planning document: Government says it has no duty to secure food supplies in a no-deal Brexit (nor any other crisis)
Brexit: We stand at a cross-roads. When the UK leaves the European Union, will our leaders uphold good standards for our food, farming, fishing and trade deals? And will they agree a sensible deal with the EU? We need to make sure that they do!
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Sustain advocates food and agriculture policies and practices that enhance the health and welfare of people and animals, improve the working and living environment, promote equity and enrich society and culture.