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Boosting levels of British-grown food will be a focus for the new group

The boss of the food industry’s new resilience group has said it will draw on the spirit of co-operation seen across the supply chain during the coronavirus pandemic to tackle the threat to food security posed by climate change.

Booths MD Nigel Murray said he believed all sides of the supply chain were prepared to work together to help ministers draw up policies such as boosting the level of home grown produce, which would help protect food supplies at risk from a series of environmental and geopolitical challenges.

Murray was a member of the Food Resilience Industry Forum (FRIF), dubbed the ‘war room’, which played a key role in preventing food shortages in the pandemic. He said there were strong echoes between its work and the new group, which The Grocer revealed earlier this month was to hold a series of crisis meetings with the government to plan actions to tackle climate change.

“With FRIF it was pretty much a case of us meeting 8.15am every morning for the best part of 12 months,” he said.

“That, perhaps, had more of a sense of the immediate crisis that faced the industry to prevent food shortages. But in a sense that this is all four corners of industry coming together in a collaborative way then I definitely see strong echoes.

“Initially we have agreed with the government that we will focus on the risk and challenges from climate change and look at what interventions could help the supply chain.

“This won’t be about sustainability and setting net zero targets. That sort of work is going on elsewhere but the resilience group will be about adaptation.

“The role of the group is to be a portal between industry and government and ensure that the government understands what the priorities for industry are but equally for industry to play a part in helping ministers face these challenges.”

The resilience group is being set up following talks between Defra and the Food & Drink Sector Council and in the next few weeks will be recruiting industry leaders from across retail, manufacturing, agriculture and hospitality to join Murray.

The initiative was announced following a major report by the IGD in March, which concluded that tackling threats to the resilience of the supply chain was of the utmost urgency for all sectors of the food industry, with climate change, water shortages and biodiversity loss among a series of key challenges.

While it is unclear what policy interventions the group will ask the government to prioritise, Murray used an example of boosting levels of British-grown food as an example of how it could work.

“So currently Britain grows 17% of its own fruit,” he said. “If it is decided by the government and industry that we need to increase that level then the role of the group will be to look at what actions from industry and what policies from government could help to achieve that through cohesion and collaboration.

“I get a real sense that the collaborative intent is building across the industry. We saw it with FRIF and I think we will now see it again.”