The Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee has launched a new inquiry into how profitability and risk is shared through the food supply chain.
The cross-party committee’s Fairness in the Food Supply Chain probe will also investigate how the government monitors and regulates the issue, in addition to the impact of myriad external factors on the supply chain and the viability of businesses, such as imported food and global commodity prices.
It comes as households face shortages of key food items and the highest levels of food price inflation since the 1970s, while the farming sector is in the midst of a damaging squeeze on margins. Efra said the far-reaching inquiry would “look at issues throughout the food supply chain from ‘farm to fork’”.
It will take evidence from, among others, farmers, manufacturers, retailers, consumers and the government, the committee said, with a deadline for submissions of 28 July.
The inquiry comes in the wake of the committee’s ongoing food security probe and ahead of a summit of food sector bosses hosted by prime minister Rishi Sunak at Downing Street next week.
After taking oral evidence in parliamentary evidence sessions, as well as written evidence, the committee planned to issue a report with its recommendations for change where appropriate, it said.
Other key issues that will be covered include to what extent the UK’s food supply chain is operating effectively and efficiently, and how structural relationships between farmers and fishers, producers and manufacturers, handlers and distributors and retailers and consumers can be improved.
The market power of UK supermarkets and manufacturers versus other advanced economies will also come under the microscope, said Efra, which will ask if the structure of the UK food supply chain supports overall domestic food security.
The committee plans to ask if existing regulation is still appropriate, such as the Groceries Supply Code of Practice and the Groceries Code Adjudicator, as well as powers under part three of the Agriculture Act 2020.
Additionally, government reviews of contractual practice in specific sectors, for example in the pig and dairy sectors, will be reviewed, as will the need to widen them out to other sectors.
And among a host of other topics it plans to cover, the Efra inquiry will probe the relationship between food production costs, food prices and retail prices, and how recent movements in commodity prices and food price inflation have been reflected in retail prices.
“During these times of high food price inflation, when many people are struggling to give their families good food at a reasonable price, it’s our job as a committee to get to the bottom of what’s going on,” said Efra chair Robert Goodwill MP.
“We know consumers are paying higher prices, but the question is: are the other parts of the supply chain unduly benefiting from that, or are some of them also feeling the squeeze?
“We need to strike the right balance to ensure healthy, affordable – and preferably British-produced – food is available to all of us.”