coronavirus food shortages uk

Coronavirus and Agri-Food: “People, not viruses, are causing shortages”

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Amidst the widespread fear which is being caused by the Coronavirus that has gripped Europe, reports of a “pressure on Agriculture” and “food shortages” have started to rear their ugly heads.

In response, government officials and representatives from the Food industry are desperately trying to reassure the public that countries will not run out of food.

Pasta, rice, beans, soup, bread and – of course – toilet roll have been flying off the shelves…

Since the outbreak of the virus on the continent, Agriculture, Food, and Retail have been feeling a strain. While some are pinning this to a loss of mobility in terms of workers in those industries (as a result of flight restrictions and encouraged social isolation), the truth is that the issue stems from people’s reaction to the virus, rather than the virus itself.

Empty supermarket shelves, Coton near Leeds
[Image: Sky News]

Across Western Europe, stockpiling has become a major issue, with consumers bulk-buying long-lasting and staple food and household items. Pasta, rice, beans, soup, bread and – of course – toilet roll has been flying off the shelves, with most supermarkets now limiting the amount of items customers are allowed purchase in one go.

All the European countries which have been most majorly hit by Coronavirus – Italy, France, Germany, and Spain – have all issued statements on the subject, as has the UK. While these vary in content, they all give the same message: please don’t panic.  

Italy: opt for ‘Made in Italy’ products wherever possible

Italy, which sits at the epicentre of the crisis, has placed an emphasis on the importance of buying locally-sourced ingredients wherever possible. The Italian industry association has urged consumers to opt for ‘Made in Italy’ products wherever possible, in order to continue to properly support the country’s Agriculture and Food industries. According to the Body’s research, an estimated 38% of Italians are buying under the influence of an ‘unjustified fear’ of food shortages. Italy has seen an 80%, 60%, and 51% rise in flour, tinned meat, and pasta sales respectively.

Spain: “a call for calm”

In Spain, the government has issued a national “call for calm”. The Spanish Association of Distributors and Supermarkets, the National Association of Large Distribution Companies, and the Association of Manufacturers and Distributors Companies have come together to issue a national “call for calm”, stating that Spain has a “well-developed system of logisitics” in place to deal with all normal consumer demands. They note that there is “one food store per 840 consumers”.

Germany: “we have no shortages”

Germany’s statement revolves around the fact that there is more than enough food for every member of the country’s population. Their Food & Agriculture Minister, Julia Klockner, issued a statement which firmly stated: “we have no shortages”.

France: “there is no shortage”

Likewise, France’s Minister of Agriculture, Bruno Le Maire, and the Minister of Economy and Finance, Didier Guillame told a journalist, quite simply, “there is no shortage”. They also noted that approximately 90-95% of supermarket products are still widely available in store, there are only a few specific products which currently show signs of shortages.

UK: “be considerate”

The UK has made similar points to its neighbours:

“There’s no doubt this is going to be a big weekend for the supermarkets and food suppliers,” said Jason Molins, an industry analyst from Goodbody.  “People are panicking as they see the numbers of confirmed cases go up every day. It’s not so much the virus itself that will lead to empty shelves, it’s the panic buying that could cause problems.”

Boris Johnson has responded to shortages by asking the nation to be considerate when shopping, and many supermarkets and now implemented restrictions on the number of items which can be purchased per person.