Therese Coffey Efra Committee 6 Dec 22

Source: Commons Efra Committee 

Coffey told MPs she didn’t ‘think we are at the stage of market interventions directly when it comes to pricing’  

Environment secretary Thérèse Coffey has dismissed calls for government to intervene in struggling supply chains and played down the impact of egg shortages.

In her first appearance in front of the Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee on Tuesday, Coffey told MPs she didn’t “think we are at the stage of doing market interventions directly when it comes to pricing”, despite mounting calls from industry to the contrary, due to low returns to farmers and producers.

Coffey also stressed there was no “general shortage of eggs”, even though most supermarkets have resorted to rationing in recent weeks as egg production is scaled back due to soaring costs and low farmgate prices across sectors ranging from eggs to fruit & veg.

“Clearly there have been some issues in the supply chain,” Coffey said. “In particular, anecdotally, the hospitality supply chain seems to have got glued up for a little while, which led to significant buying in local stores and retailers.

But she added: “I am not going to pretend there will be all sorts of extra packages coming in.”

Fruit & veg in ‘crisis’ amid ‘endemic’ low returns to growers

Despite growing concern over seasonal labour shortages next year, Coffey could only say talks were ongoing in government over the amount of labour the fresh produce sector could expect – irrespective of growing unrest from farmers over their inability to plan for 2023.

Her comments came on the same day the NFU held an emergency press conference calling for “urgent action” to secure home-grown food supply. The meeting referenced the crisis in egg supply and growing fears many fresh produce sectors were staring down the barrel of vastly reduced yields next year, with about £60m-worth of crops having gone to waste due to labour shortages in the first six months of 2022 alone.

“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 & vegetable supplies in trouble,” stressed NFU president Minette Batters.

“We need government and the wider supply chain to act now – tomorrow could well be too late.”

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