FDF calls on government to tackle food inflation at annual conference

FDF calls on government to tackle food inflation at annual conference

The Food and Drink Federation (FDF) conference was headed up by a keynote address from Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) George Eustice MP and included several panel sessions on the current outlook for exports, the economy, sustainability and consumer trends.

Picture Credit: 10 Downing Street.

Speaking at the annual conference, chief executive Karen Betts urged government to address the impact of the Ukraine conflict on prices and product availability in the UK.

Addressing an audience at the National Gallery in London, FDF chief executive Karen Betts said: “Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has been a genuine geopolitical, energy and commodity shock [that] will have serious ramifications for us all, across Europe and globally.”

In her speech, Betts addressed the effects of the Ukraine war already being felt within the supply chain. Energy prices are soaring while shortages of sunflower oil and wheat are causing huge spikes in global market prices. These impacts, Betts explained, are hitting an industry only just starting to recover from the strains of the Covid-19 pandemic.

She called on the UK government to act now to ease the supply chain pressures on food and drink companies and support the millions of households already vulnerable to the mounting cost-of-living crisis.

The keynote address

As part of his keynote speech, George Eustice thanked the industry for its hard work over the course of the pandemic, particularly over periods of ‘panic buying’ when supply was in high demand.

He underlined the importance of imposing sanctions on Russian goods and outlined some of the humanitarian efforts that the UK government was currently involved in.

Eustice addressed the current and forthcoming impacts on the price and supply of certain commodities as a result of the Ukraine conflict. He stated that the UK could expect to see more of an impact on price than supply of commodities such as sunflower oil and wheat.

Addressing price rises, the Minister went onto quote research from IGD that predicted food inflation will reach 6-8% over the summer. He added that the government is working to manage the impacts of high inflation on the supply chain and wider population.

Net Zero Panel

A 70-minute panel session which focused on the ‘realistic’ approaches to reducing the supply chain’s environmental impact was chaired by FDF’s head of climate change and energy policy Emma Piercy.

Amongst the panel were chief executive of the Sustainable Food Trust Patrick Holden and Sarah Wynn, managing director – climate change and sustainability at ADAS.

Topics discussed by the panel included:

  • The financial burden of carbon capture and green hydrogen systems on businesses and the practical difficulties of restructuring factories to become more energy efficient
  • The negative impact on public perception of food waste because of recent taxes on food waste collection
  • Public confusion over what it practically means to have a “healthy, balanced diet” and the responsibility of industry to educate consumers.

Wynn spoke about the importance of ensuring land used for agriculture is being utilised as effectively as possible, and that farmers are given clear and consistent advice on implementing more sustainable methods of production.

She added that there was a general “oversimplicity” in understanding when it comes to carbon-counting. Wynn said that beef carbon footprinting is often summarised under one figure, making it harder to understand the environmental impact on a farm-by-farm basis.

Holden said that it was vital that a strategy for a greener supply chain addressed the distinctions between the “cheap” systems of production that are detrimental to the environment and those who are part of the solution.

When asked about his wants for policy delivered in 2022, Holden replied that he would like Defra and UK environmental groups to seriously consider the role of regenerative farming as part of the solution to tackling climate change. He added that he would also like to see a “consistent approach” when it comes to government policy on agriculture.

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