Written Evidence submitted by the University of Manchester (FS0051)

 

This submission provides written evidence from the RiseUp project funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) by Drs Maria Sharmina and Rebecca St. Clair (University of Manchester) and a research project on sustainable food procurement funded by the Conlan Environmental Impact Internship at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research by Tess Hayton, Maria Sharmina and Rebecca St. Clair. All views contained within are attributable to the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the university with which the authors are affiliated.

 

 

Summary of policy recommendations:

 


Q1. What are the key factors affecting the resilience of food supply chains and causing disruption and rising food prices – including input costs, labour shortages and global events? What are the consequences for UK businesses and consumers?

 

a)     Impact on the UK seafood sector (evidence from the UKRI RiseUp project)

 

 

The RiseUp project investigated the resilience of the UK seafood system in the face of disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The evidence presented here is based on semi-structured interviews with ten representatives of shellfish and fish processors in the UK.

 

The COVID-19 pandemic presented major challenges for seafood businesses in the UK, however business representatives interviewed often found it difficult to separate the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and the impacts of the UK’s exit from the European Union (Brexit). The factors that have challenged businesses and that may affect their resilience, and in turn, the resilience of the supply chain are:

 

                Reduction in staff numbers (particularly following the departure of Eastern European staff)

                Difficulty recruiting and retaining staff, particularly struggling to recruit local people and experiencing delays from the Home Office, which affects recruitment from overseas

                Export activities being more time consuming and financially risky than prior to Brexit

                New regulations not always being communicated in a clear or timely manner

                Shortage of HGV drivers for supply and distribution

                Large amount of paperwork involved in importing seafood

                Supply difficulties in securing adequate levels of imported seafood for processing

 

Businesses also identified future trends or risks, with the potential for disruption as:

                Climate change

                Labour shortages including a lack of suitable skills, an aging workforce, and migration away from coastal regions to cities/university towns

                Increasing cost of energy

                Inflationary pressures increasing the price of restaurant food, making eating out more expensive for consumers and putting pressure on processors who supply the service industry

                Biosecurity and disease

 

b)     Impact on sustainable food procurement (evidence from the Conlan Environmental Impact project)

 

Our sustainable food procurement research is based on 20 interviews with participants from across food supply chains, public procurement decision makers, sustainable food advocates and a review of the relevant literature. Our recent report “Being Brave: Innovative solutions to public food procurement” (Hayton, St. Clair, & Sharmina, 2022) highlights the following factors which may reduce the resilience of supply chains and/or increase food costs:

 

      Food waste, which compromises the efficiency of food systems, increases costs and means using more resources to produce food than would otherwise be necessary. Public authorities should carry out food waste audits to identify areas for improvement.

      Budgetary pressures on local authorities, meaning that schools have less money to spend on healthy, sustainable food

      Lack of suitable kitchen infrastructure in schools

      The dominance of a small number of large suppliers of public sector food

 

 

Q4. How will the proposals in the Government’s food strategy policy paper affect the resilience of food supply chains, the agri-food and seafood sectors and access to health, nutritious food?

 

a)     Impact on the UK seafood sector (evidence from the UKRI RiseUp project)

 

The proposal under Objective 1 in the Government’s food strategy policy paper to “ensure a sufficient, well-paid workforce to support every food and drink business” is key to the resilience of seafood businesses who have reported difficulty in recruiting and retaining skilled staff. While several businesses interviewed felt positive about automation, they emphasised the lack of available machinery that can rival human dexterity for fiddly operations (e.g. shelling shellfish), or that can maintain quality of product and that does not lead to increased levels of waste (getting the most possible yield from each fish). Processors with multiple different products need skilled staff who can fillet different types of fish and swap between different operations.

 

The proposal under Objective 2 in the Government’s food strategy policy paper to “incentivise farmers and food producers to adopt more sustainable practices” has the potential to improve the resilience of the UK seafood system. Research suggests that by improving the environmental sustainability of their business models through the implementation of activities that increase their adherence to circular economy principles, seafood businesses may improve their resilience (Fletcher, St. Clair, & Sharmina, 2021). Businesses interviewed as part of the RiseUp project were generally positive about adopting measures to reduce their resource use and waste, particularly if these were commercially viable options or the directors had an interest in environmental sustainability and were driven by a moral perspective. Financial or policy incentives may be required to encourage more businesses to implement and invest in circular economy measures to improve their resilience.

 

The proposal under Objective 2 to “work towards developing largescale and long-term policies to shift diets” should also focus on increasing resilience in the seafood system. Food system resilience can be strengthened at different scales (local, regional and global) (Schipanski et al., 2016) and through diversification in diets and across the supply chain (Hertel, Elouafi, Tanticharoen, & Ewert, 2021). In the UK, the majority of the seafood we eat is imported while most of the seafood we produce is exported, and as a net importer of sea fish, we have a trade deficit of 305 thousand tonnes (Marine Management Organisation, 2021). Seafood businesses we interviewed identified the lack of demand from UK consumers for UK seafood as a challenge with one interviewee suggested that UK consumers are squeamish and do not eat things with “legs and eyes and feelers”. There was also concern over the vulnerability of extended just-in-time supply chains to international disruption, as much of the seafood we consume is processed outside of the UK. There appears to be potential in the UK for strengthening resilience by encouraging UK consumers to diversify their diets and consume more local seafood produce while increasing domestic processing capacity.

 

b)     Impact on sustainable food procurement (evidence from the Conlan Environmental Impact project)

 

Our research suggests that the proposal under Objective 2 to “consult on Government Buying Standards for Food and Catering Services… [to] include whether to widen the scope of GBSF mandatory organisations to cover the whole public sector” would be valuable. Our research recommends allowing city-regions to create their own mandatory standards, to ensure that all public bodies in receipt of city-regional funding “champion local, seasonal and sustainable produce” (Hayton et al., 2022).

 

The Government’s proposal to increase spend on food produced locally could also be supported through a focus on dynamic food procurement systems, which make large tenders more accessible for smaller, more local suppliers. This approach has been trialled in Bath and North East Somerset Council, who increased access for local producers while reducing overall costs (Dynamic Food Procurement National Advisory Board, 2021).

 

 

References

 

Dynamic Food Procurement National Advisory Board. (2021). Case study for the provision of school food in Bath and North East Somerset. Retrieved from https://www.dynamicfood.org/bath-somerset-pilot

Fletcher, C., St. Clair, R., & Sharmina, M. (2021). Links between the circular economy and the resilience of the seafood sector. Nature Food, 2(4), 228-232.

Hayton, T., St. Clair, R., & Sharmina, M. (2022). Being Brave: Innovative solutions to public food procurement. Retrieved from https://www.research.manchester.ac.uk/portal/files/212039356/GMCA_Sustainable_Food_Procurement_Tyndall_Centre_Report_Final.pdf.

Hertel, T., Elouafi, I., Tanticharoen, M., & Ewert, F. (2021). Diversification for enhanced food systems resilience. Nature Food, 2(11), 832-834.

Marine Management Organisation. (2021). UK Sea Fisheries Statistics 2021. gov.uk Retrieved from https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/uk-sea-fisheries-annual-statistics

Schipanski, M. E., MacDonald, G. K., Rosenzweig, S., Chappell, M. J., Bennett, E. M., Kerr, R. B., . . . Lundgren, J. (2016). Realizing resilient food systems. BioScience, 66(7), 600-610.

 

September 2022