Speaking at a meeting of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Committee, Secretary of State Therese Coffey said that the Government is not considering any further financial support for British farmers.

When asked whether there would be any non-ELM support that the government is considering paying to farmers to help them with rising production costs, Coffey said: “I’m not going to pretend that there is going to be all sorts of extra packages coming in.”

Speaking about recent challenges within the British egg industry, she said that there had been some issues within the supply chain but that she didn’t believe that there was a shortage.

“I’m not going to be particularly critical of supermarkets,” Coffey told the EFRA Committee on Tuesday 6th December. “I think, overall, having a competitive supermarket environment has done a lot to help consumers.”

She explained that collaboration between farmers, processors and retailers is important, and that the UK Government had played a role in convening people together. She added: “[However], I don’t think we are at the stage of doing any market interventions directly when it comes to pricing.”

Lack of fairness

These comments come after the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) called on the government for “urgent action” to ensure home-grown food supply and avoid shortages.

Government faces a stark choice: back British food production in order to secure a home-grown supply of sustainable food or risk seeing more empty shelves in the nation’s supermarkets, the NFU warned.

NFU claimed that multiple farming sectors could soon be under threat from immediate supply issues caused by “a lack of fairness for farmers and growers throughout the supply chain.”

At a press conference, the NFU laid out some “key asks” for government. These include:

  • An urgent investigation by Defra into whether an “exceptional market conditions” declaration should be made under the Agriculture Act 2020, given the severe disruption which egg producers and UK consumers are experiencing.
  • The government to progress with their plans to bring fairness in the dairy sector.
  • Fruit and veg growers need fair treatment and confidence to invest and a commitment from government to lift the cap on the seasonal worker scheme to increase the number of visas available to meet the sector’s essential workforce needs.
  • British food and farming needs to be a political priority. Promises made by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, in August 2022, need to be delivered, in particular: by establishing a new food security target, including a statutory duty to monitor and report on domestic food production levels annually, to hold a UK-wide annual food security summit and introduce a new target for public sector organisations to buy 50% of their food locally.
  • Agriculture and horticulture must be seen as a vulnerable sector in regard to energy security.

Act now

NFU president Minette Batters urged the Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to honour the commitments he made to support British farmers through the energy crisis and to set a target for the nation’s food security, with a statutory duty to report on domestic food levels.

Batters said: “Shoppers up and down the country have for decades had a guaranteed supply of high-quality affordable food produced to some of the highest animal welfare, environmental and food safety standards in the world. That food, produced with care by British farmers, is critical to our nation’s security and success. But British food is under threat.

“Only last week, the former Director General of MI5, The Baroness Manningham-Buller, said that food is part of our critical national infrastructure and that government needs to be consistent in planning for our food supply. I couldn’t agree more, particularly at a time when global volatility is threatening the stability of the world’s food production, food security and energy security.”

She added: “We have already seen the egg supply chain crippled under the pressure caused by these issues and I fear the country is sleepwalking into further food supply crises, with the future of British fruit and vegetable supplies in trouble. We need government and the wider supply chain to act now – tomorrow could well be too late.”