If anyone was wondering why Rishi Sunak’s original instinct was to stay at home and tackle the domestic crisis rather than attend COP27, yesterday’s events offer some explanation.

Supermarket bosses have called for the government to suspend all but emergency legislation in the sector to allow them to fight the cost of living crisis, in a statement made via the BRC and backed by the FDF.

As illustrated by yesterday’s figures from IGD, which estimate food inflation will reach a truly terrifying 19% by early next year, leading supermarkets and suppliers clearly believe they have enough on their hands without the likes of extended producer responsibility (EPR).

It’s not the first time businesses have called for respite from an onslaught of legislation, and there were several such calls during Brexit and the pandemic. However, this felt like a watershed moment given the extent of the pressures caused by the war in Ukraine, soaring energy prices and food costs.

“We have got people coming into our stores using self-service tills because they are embarrassed at the thought they might not have enough money at the checkouts and might have to put things back,” BRC head of food and sustainability Andrew Opie told the Efra committee yesterday, although his words were clearly more aimed at the Treasury.

Indeed, as seemingly not a day goes by without more dismal news on the challenges facing hard-pressed shoppers and the army of charities and food banks trying to keep people warm and fed, Opie’s argument to prioritise only the necessary is a strong one.

The debate will rage, of course, over what qualifies as necessary.

That the government’s flagship policy on the environment is foremost in the sights of the BRC’s call for a period of “pause and prioritisation” is ironic and alarming.

The introduction of EPR, due to come into force in 2024, poses huge logistical and financial challenges and is set to cost the industry billions, even after the government agreement to water down the proposals earlier this year.

Supermarkets are now calling for the move to be shelved altogether, citing not just the cost but fundamental flaws in the proposals. Both the BRC and FDF are urging the government to limit regulation to only critical industry commitments needed to hit time-sensitive targets.

Presumably they are talking about pledges such as the one made at last year’s COP summit to halve the environmental impact of shopping by 2030, and the industry’s war on plastic.

Sadly, figures suggest the cost of living crisis is having a major detrimental impact even on these areas.

Yesterday The Grocer revealed supermarket supply chain emissions have actually gone up by 5% since that landmark pledge, whilst the Efra committee itself earlier this week savaged the industry’s slow progress on plastic.

Of course, it’s easy to blame supermarkets and big food companies for a failure to tackle the environment.

The WWF insists industry CEOs are engaged and committed at the very top level and calls on government to show more leadership.

Yet if the call for a legislative pause is successful, it could involve a whole raft of major policies being suspended, or axed altogether, while it’s all hands to the pump to stave off a winter of hunger.