Shorter supply chains needed to make the UK food network resilient

04 June 2020, 08:22 AM
  • The coronavirus pandemic has exposed cracks in the UK’s food system, but bold government intervention can help shorter supply chains thrive and make the system more sustainable
Shorter supply chains needed to make the UK food network resilient

In the face of pandemics and climate change, the UK needs bold government intervention in order to revamp its food networks, a report by the Soil Association says. The report, Shortening Supply Chains; Roads to Regional Resilience, looks at opportunities to increase the availability of local, sustainable food through shorter supply chains.

Local and national government can incentivise regional and more sustainable production by redirecting the £2bn spent annually on public sector food, the Soil Association says. It recommends re-writing public procurement regulations to allow a wider range of suppliers, no matter their size, to have flexible access to food contracts in places like schools and hospitals.

By moving away from the practice of having many fixed, high volume contracts with one large provider, smaller and regional businesses wouldn’t be locked out of the system.

Adrian Steele, one of the authors of the report and Organic Sector Development Advisor at the Soil Association, said: “Coronavirus has highlighted the fragility of our supply chains and has allowed us to see that shorter, more direct food networks can be more resilient. We need bold intervention from local and national governments to support a resilient food system in the face of climate change and pandemics.

“There are great examples already in the UK demonstrating that shorter supply chains can provide people with healthy and sustainable food sourced from their local area. But we also need the £2bn being spent on food in schools and hospitals each year to be invested in a mix of businesses – both large and small – that are working to protect climate, nature and public health. We also need agricultural policy to reward farmers for nature-friendly, agroecological farming.”

The research noted the lack of regulatory requirements for public sector organisations to source food that meets sustainability or regional sourcing requirements. Establishing and enforcing sustainability regulations would drive up demand that could be further assisted by using the Agriculture Bill and post-Brexit farming policy to pay farmers to deliver “public goods” that look after the environment, water and air quality.

Meanwhile, investment in so-called food hubs could coordinate collection, packing and distribution of regionally produced food so that smaller producers could sell food to people in their area without incurring big delivery costs.

For more information, read the full report.

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