My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, for introducing this debate and I declare my interest as someone running a dairy farm business which includes a farmers’ co-operative and a farm shop. Ever since food from our own resources, the answer has not resulted in more self-sufficiency or a greater food supply being needed. Can this pandemic be different and the food supply be re-engineered? While recognising the huge inequalities that have resulted in more food banks, the supply resilience of food has not been a problem in our rich western democracy. However, we must not overlook the increasing problems of food poverty in modern Britain. Shorter local food chains are needed.
The pandemic led to an immediate shutdown of the food service sector. Some 50% of food is consumed outside the home, and the supply chains of supermarkets and the retail sector displayed great resilience after the initial disruption of the switch. Online demand and supply increased rapidly, but underlying food issues remain. In the short term, the Groceries Supply Code of Practice and the adjudicator have embedded food supply governance in the reputational risk management of the retail supply chain. As in health, where the contrast has been between the NHS and the care sector, retail contrasts with the multifaceted disparities in food service, where bad behaviour has pushed supply chain risk down into the farming sector. How will food chain service behaviour be made to respond, become Covid 19 -compliant and adapt to social distancing?
The overriding answer lies in food nutrition. The health of a nation is determined by the quality of the food it eats; the answer does not lie in even more poor-quality food becoming ever cheaper. Nor is it to do with exports. The emphasis must be on increasing food quality standards, as displayed yesterday in Labour’s amendment to the Agriculture Bill. Can people become obese through eating only highly nutritious food? Where is the Government’s food policy document? Another problem relates to competition law. If this law has had to be put aside during this crisis, is it really fit for purpose?