14.08.2021 Author: Vladimir Odintsov

Empty Supermarket Shelves in Britain – What Will the Consequences Be?


The COVID-19 pandemic and Brexit have swept across Britain’s supermarket shelves like a hurricane, exacerbating the food poverty that afflicts millions of people in the country. Members of the Parliamentary Committee for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs consider that ecological problems may cause the situation to deteriorate even further.

Back in March, it was reported that the number of people needing support from food banks had increased by 81%. Children were particularly badly affected, with charities providing food for 122% more children than in March 2020. It was already clear that Britain’s food supply chains were alarmingly fragile.

In the last few months the situation has deteriorated – because of a lack of lorry drivers the army has had to step in to help delivering food to shops, pubs, restaurants and care homes, writes the Daily Mail. According to the Federation of Wholesale Distributors (FWD) the situation has become critical in the last few weeks, with empty shelves in supermarkets and the risk of people going hungry. James Bielby, Chief Executive of the FWD estimated the shortfall in lorry drivers at 100,000.  According to a report in The Sun on Sunday, around 2,000 lorry drivers from the Royal Logistics Corps and other regiments are ready to help with distribution at short notice.

“Soldiers will be put up in hotels where necessary and will be working extended hours to assist with the [food transportation] crisis. They will be involved with food distribution as well as the transportation of other essential goods and medical supplies,” said a source cited in the article.

This critical situation is due to the fact that many HGV drivers left Britain after Brexit, and it has not been possible to make up for the shortfall yet, as many drivers are still waiting for their licenses. The procedure has been slowed down because of the COVID-19 lockdowns. At the beginning of July the Road Haulage Association warned that there might be problems with food deliveries to shops.

24-hour supermarkets have already started displaying notices warning customers about food shortages. There have also been interruptions in the delivery of fresh produce to pub and restaurant chains. There have been shortages of beer, milk and other perishable products. There are also fears that the crisis may cause petrol shortages in filling stations.

According to the Bloomberg press agency, almost a third of Britain’s food imports come from the EU, and it is particularly dependent on the EU for fresh fruit and vegetables. But Brexit has now come into effect, and there is still no mutually acceptable trade agreement between Britain and the EU. And more and more experts are reaching the conclusion that there never will be. Westminster has shown little interest in reaching an agreement with the EU. And as far as Brussels is concerned, it is becoming increasingly clear that post-Brexit Britain will not be among its privileged trading partners – and that trade between Britain and the EU will be regulated by the default WTO rules.

Nevertheless, while negotiations are still under way, MPs have called on the government to appoint a Minister for Food Security who can ensure Britain is ready for any outcome. Naturally enough, MPs are particularly concerned to ensure that vulnerable groups such as the unemployed, the homeless, school children and low-income families do not go without food. The new minister is expected to prioritize these groups.

In view of the food shortages experienced by millions of people, discussed above, it is perhaps no coincidence that Britain has been promoting insects as a food source. For example, The Sunday Times reports that people in Britain are beginning to overcome their “traditional disgust” and start enjoying foods made of grasshoppers, crickets and mealworms. Apparently, this idea is particularly popular with young people concerned about fitness and the environmental credentials of the food they eat. Up to now, cooking with insects has been the preserve of expensive restaurants, but now – the article cheerfully suggests – we are about to see a new approach. Crickets, grasshoppers and mealworms are increasingly sold in powdered form, meaning that they can be added to almost anything, from protein shakes to desserts.

The author of the article in the Sunday Times sees this as a positive development – after all, insects are rich sources of essential vitamins and minerals, protein and healthy fats. And, since farming insects does not require a lot of land or water, they can be seen as a sustainable source of food. In support of this new trend, the writer adds that in certain regions of Thailand, Mexico and Central Africa insects have long been seen as a normal food, but that the British have always refused to eat insects – a squeamish attitude that chefs and food scientists find rather frustrating.

Advertising campaigns of this kind are clearly having the desired effect: interest in edible insects is growing in Britain. Nutribug, a Surrey-based food company, already offers products made from crickets, including protein bars with trendy ingredients such as goji berries and chia seeds. Apparently, their sales have increased by 30% in the last year. According to Meticulous Research, a global market research company, the edible insects market – including food for animals – is expected to grow 24% a year, and may be worth up to £5.75 billion by 2030.

With Britain’s food crisis at its current levels, clearly no option is off the table.

But when British propaganda articles tell the public about how people eat insects in Thailand, Mexico or Central Africa, will they also mention how little money people live on in those countries? Perhaps the next British public information campaign will ask members of the public to live on a similar budget? After all, it is no secret – either in Britain or further afield – that poverty and social inequality are on the increase in the country. The gulf between the rich and the poor is reaching black hole proportions, and a third of British children are now living in poverty.

Vladimir Odintsov, political observer, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.