Documents to download

Complex food supply chains

There are many stages in getting the UK’s food from farm to fork, and many of these are interlinked in a complex network at a national or even international scale. The UK currently produces about 60% of its domestic food consumption by economic value, part of which is exported. This means just under half of the actual food on plates is produced in the UK, including the majority of grains, meat, dairy, and eggs. 

The Government’s UK Food Security Report 2021 describes the UK’s food supply chain as a “highly complex system”. Government strategies, including the 2021 UK Food Security Report and the 2022 national Food Strategy, aim to ensure the resilience of the food supply system so that UK consumers have choice in accessing healthy and affordable food. The Food Strategy also emphasises the need to account for climate change and to tackle environmental challenges.

Benefits of local food systems

Part of the framework for sustainable food systems is the local production, processing and retailing of products. While some academics question the overall environmental benefits of relying too heavily on local production, local food movements emphasise the benefits to be gained from local supply chains. They highlight the role of local food producers, processors and retailers in supplying UK consumers in a socially and environmentally sustainable manner. Studies also report benefits to local economies from local food systems. For example, the Campaign for Rural England reported that, pound for pound, spending in smaller independent local food outlets supports three times the number of jobs than spending at national grocery chains.

There are a large number of local policy levers to support local food infrastructure, from planning policies to funding for infrastructure investment. Local authorities have a wide range of tools at their disposal to encourage and support local food infrastructure. Community-led initiatives to support local food production systems include food hubs, allotment societies, and city farms. 

A key policy lever to encourage local food infrastructure is public sector procurement. The Government is consulting on a target for certain public sector organisations to spend at least 50% of food procurement budgets on locally produced food or food certified to higher environmental production standards. If adopted, progress towards this target would be reported on annually.

Food price challenges

Even when food is readily available and cheap, some households cannot access food because their incomes are too low.

In 2020/21, 4.2 million people in the UK (6%) were in food insecure households in the UK, and in 2021/22, the Trussell Trust supplied 2.2 million three-day emergency food parcels to food bank users.

Increasing food prices and the rising cost of living means more people are experiencing food insecurity and visiting food banks. A YouGov survey by the Food Foundation found that 12.8% of people in the UK had eaten less or skipped meals, 8.8% had not eaten when they were hungry, and 4.6% had gone a whole day without eating in the month to April 2022. The Trussell Trust saw a 22% increase in demand for food parcels in January to February 2022 compared to the same period in 2020.

This pack includes information on local food systems, infrastructure and production and on procurement policy and food poverty, as well as recent relevant Parliamentary material. 

Documents to download

Related posts