The bill gives the government the “power to act” if voluntary requests for information are refused by members of the industry
The new rules apply only to companies, and not to individual farmers or sole traders
Emergency powers to tackle the coronavirus outbreak could be used to force supermarkets and suppliers to hand over information about food supplies.
With Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordering Britain into lockdown yesterday, the new legislation states ministers still envisage an “industry led” response to the crisis.
However, as fears continue over how long supermarkets will face pressure from panic-buying, the Coronavirus Bill gives the government sweeping new powers to require data to be handed over, although the new rules apply only to companies, and not to individual farmers or sole traders.
The legislation will allow the government to demand information if it “considers the information is needed to establish whether the whole or part of a food supply chain is being disrupted or is at risk of disruption” and if it needs information on “the nature of such a disruption”.
The document stresses the key role played “on a voluntary basis” by the industry, which has included daily briefings between the environment secretary George Eustice and senior food industry representatives, as well as meetings of the Food Chain Emergency Liaison Group (FCELG).
It said this had enabled the government to “assess the situation and scale of disruption” and plan the response.
It added: “Whilst we anticipate ongoing collaboration on a voluntary basis between government and industry, it is right and proper for a responsible government to plan for every scenario.
“Therefore, we need a power to act if a member(s) of the food industry were to refuse to comply with voluntary requests for information in order to ensure government has the necessary information to build a clear understanding of the situation, make informed judgements and respond effectively.”