SUMMER seems to be slowly leaving us and there has been a bit of a chill in the air recently. Autumn is knocking on our door and change is well and truly in the air. Many of us will look towards the coming months with an element of concern, given that it has already been branded as the winter of discontent.

Reports in the media over recent weeks have given us an idea of some of the challenges we are likely to face for months to come; major issues for UK food supply chains caused by shortages in HGV drivers and the lack of CO₂ for the slaughter of animals and food packaging are just some of the problems we’re looking at.

The shortfall of around 100,000 HGV drivers has affected many major retailers and food service outlets including Iceland and McDonalds after around a quarter of these drivers returned to the EU due to Brexit and Covid-19.

We have long maintained that issues such as this would come to light as a result of a Brexit outcome that meant barriers between the UK and EU.

Whilst the UK Government has since announced that a package of measures will be introduced to help tackle the HGV driver shortage, including temporary visas for 5,000 fuel tanker and food delivery drivers to work in the UK in the lead up to Christmas and a streamlined process for new drivers to obtain their HGV licence, it seems more like a plaster on a gaping wound.

The actual problem - that of fragile supply chains and our need for seamless access to the European market have not been addressed.

Also not considered here is the importance of labour, particularly in all parts of our food system, whether it’s picking, planting or processing. EU and UK labour is essential for making our food systems work.

We have also experienced a shortage in CO₂ which is used for the humane slaughter of livestock and packaging of fresh meat and other food products to prevent bacteria. CF Industries produce around 60% of the UK’s food-grade CO₂ requirements as a by-product of producing fertiliser, however, a price increase in gas by around 250% meant that two of its locations closed with short notice.

This led to a reduction in slaughterings of pigs, poultry, cattle and sheep, putting our food security on ice.

Again, the UK Government provided financial support for CF Fertilisers in order to ensure a continued supply of CO₂ for the meat processing sector for a three week period but again, this has not dealt with the underlying problem.

These immediate issues demonstrate the vital role agriculture plays in the winder economy and the importance of supporting local food producers and butchers for maintaining food security. It’s an old FUW message but as true today as it has always been.

Glyn Roberts,

FUW President