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This publication is available at https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/united-kingdom-food-security-report-2021/united-kingdom-food-security-report-2021-introduction
This report is an analysis of statistical data on food security in the United Kingdom. It is the first in a series of reports which will be published under a new duty in the Agriculture Act 2020 to report to Parliament on food security in the United Kingdom at least once every three years.
The UK Food Security Report (UKFSR) examines past, current, and predicted trends relevant to food security, to present the best available and impartial analysis of food security in the UK, and to lay the groundwork for future Food Security Reports.
Food security is a complex and multi-faceted issue. To address the subject’s many diverse aspects, the UKFSR is structured around five principal ‘themes’, each addressing an important component of modern-day food security in the UK. They are as follows: global food availability, which describes supply and demand issues, trends and risk on a global scale, and how they may affect UK food supply; UK food supply, which looks at the UK’s main sources of food at home and overseas; supply chain resilience, which outlines the physical, economic, and human infrastructure that underlies the food supply chain, and that chain’s vulnerabilities; household-level food security, which deals with issues of affordability and access to food; and food safety and consumer confidence, which details food crime and safety issues.
The report draws on a broad range of published statistical data from government and other sources. These quantitative sources are supplemented with case studies and qualitative analysis where necessary and helpful. In some cases, where quantitative evidence is not available due to data being limited or confidential, or where the report references recent events which are not yet reflected in published statistics, only qualitative analysis is available.
As set out under Section 19 of the Agriculture Act 2020: “The Secretary of State must, on or before the relevant day and at least once every three years thereafter, prepare and lay before Parliament a report containing an analysis of statistical data relating to food security in the United Kingdom.”
The UKFSR is the first comprehensive review of the UK’s food security to be published since the UK Food Security Assessment (UKFSA), which was first published in 2009 and updated in 2010. In the decade since the UKFSA, the food security landscape has changed significantly. The UK’s departure from the European Union has brought along changes in areas as diverse as trade, farming, and access to fisheries, representing both challenges and opportunities in food security. Climate change and its impacts on farming and the food supply chain are now also better understood. The COVID-19 pandemic and other concurrent events happening towards the end of 2020, such as the UK leaving the EU and increased food demand due to Christmas, have stress-tested the supply chain, highlighting both the vulnerabilities in this complex system and the resilience and flexibility of the UK’s food supply. In addition, the pandemic has increased public awareness in a range of food security areas. This includes the complexities and dependencies of the UK’s food supply chain, notably the advantages and risks of just-in-time food supplies, as well as the issues surrounding household food insecurity as households struggled to afford food.
While the UKFSR is a different document to the UKFSA, it has some important similarities. It shares a number of common data sources and covers a similar spread of topics in its five themes as the UKFSA did in its six.
The production of this report is the responsibility of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). It has been produced in collaboration with relevant officials in the Devolved Administrations, and with UK food safety bodies. An area as all-encompassing as food security touches on a wide range of government bodies. Agricultural and food supply policy is devolved to each national administration. National Security and Counter Terrorism (CT) policy is a specific reservation under the Home Affairs heading. As lead departments for food as a Critical National Infrastructure (CNI) sector, Defra and the FSA manage those risks specifically relating to National Security and CT across the UK. For all other areas of risk, food supply chain resilience and security are the responsibility of Defra in England; DAERA and Department for Communities in Northern Ireland; Scottish Government in Scotland; and Welsh Government in Wales. The FSA is responsible for food safety and tackling food crime in England, Northern Ireland, and Wales. Food Standards Scotland are responsible for food safety and food crime in Scotland.
What is food security?
Food security has many dimensions. As a topic, it encompasses the state of global agriculture and markets on which the UK is reliant; the sources of raw materials and foodstuffs in the UK and abroad; the manufacturing, wholesale, and retail industries that ultimately bring food to shelves and plates, and their complex supply chains of inputs and logistics; and the systems of inspection that allow consumers to be confident their food is safe, authentic, and of a high standard. Accordingly, this report examines the issue of whether the UK is food secure across five ‘themes.’
Theme 1: Global Food Availability looks at food security in terms of supply and demand at a global level. It is concerned with the security and stability of the international food supply system, on which the UK relies for nearly half of its food. It assesses trends in global agriculture and food production set against population growth, the impacts of climate change and other factors on food production, and the state of key inputs to agriculture, such as labour, water and fertiliser. It also looks at trends in global trade, which is essential for the UK to access food produced abroad.
Theme 2: UK Food Supply Sources looks at food security in terms of where the UK gets its food. It focuses specifically on the UK’s principal sources of food at home and overseas. It describes the UK’s domestic production, and trends in agricultural productivity; fisheries; and food manufacturing. It considers important factors in maintaining domestic productivity, such as soil health; pesticide use; and biodiversity. It discusses the principal sources the UK relies on for its food imports, and food waste in the system. It also considers the indicators which will help future reports assess the food security impacts of the UK’s 2020 departure from the European Union, both in terms of changes to domestic production practices and to the UK’s trading relationship with the world. As a number of these factors would not be expected to change significantly in the short term, longer term monitoring of these indicators will be required to fully understand the impacts.
Theme 3: Supply Chain Resilience looks at food security in terms of the physical, human and economic infrastructure underlying the supply chain. It describes the sophisticated infrastructure of just-in-time supply chains, their strengths and potential vulnerabilities. It considers how the supply chain responds to issues, for example the impacts the Covid-19 pandemic had throughout the supply chain. It also describes the risk of cyber-attacks, labour issues in the supply chain, and other significant vulnerabilities.
Theme 4: Food Security at Household Level looks at food security in terms of whether households can reliably afford and access sufficient healthy and nutritious food. It discusses the affordability of food and drink, in real terms and compared to other living costs. It considers whether people have access to food shops. The theme covers household food security levels in the UK and breaks this down into various factors that may impact these levels. It also looks at the use of food aid in the UK including during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Theme 5: Food Safety and Consumer Confidence looks at food security in terms of the perceived and actual safety and authenticity of food in the UK. It describes the inspections and surveillance regime for ensuring food standards in the UK are upheld and examines trends in food safety issues such as food crime, foodborne pathogens, labelling and metrics on public trust in the food system.
How to read the UKFSR
Each theme of the UKFSR begins with an introduction, which sets out the broader context and reasoning behind the theme, and a summary, which provides the headline conclusions. The body of each theme is then comprised of indicators and case studies, each of which sets out a specific aspect of food security and the available data.
Each indicator, in turn, has a Headline summary and a more detailed Context and Rationale section for why the indicator has been included. A Data and Assessment section then sets out the relevant data and what it tells us. Finally, a Trends section articulates what this assessment means in terms of food security and what can usefully be observed. Where there is an observable past or future trend in the data, this section will articulate it. Relevant information on survey methodology and notes explaining specific concepts are included in an annex.
The great variety of data sources and the different collection periods of the available information mean it is not always possible to talk about every indicator in the exact same way. Some indicators contain data that has only recently started to be collected and therefore, this iteration of the UKFSR can only serve as a starting point for a future time series.
The UKFSR is not a policy document. Its purpose is to understand the landscape and the issues at stake, and to set out and interpret the best available evidence regarding food security. It is not a showcase of current or future government policy. It aims to provide policymakers across the UK nations with the best possible information and analysis they need to maintain the UK’s food security, in all its many aspects.
About the UK Food Security Report
The UK Food Security Report sets out an analysis of statistical data relating to food security, examining past, current, and predicted trends relevant to food security to present the best available understanding of food security. It fulfils a duty under Part 2, Chapter 1 (Section 19) of the Agriculture Act 2020 to prepare and lay before Parliament “a report containing an analysis on statistical data relating to food security in the United Kingdom”. The first report must be published before Christmas Recess 2021, and subsequent reports must be published at least once every three years thereafter.
It contains statistics for different time periods, but always using latest available data at the time of release. Data comes from surveys run by Defra and from a wide range of other sources including government departments, agencies and commercial organisations, in the UK and internationally.
Associated datasets from this publication are also available. Data are a mixture of National Statistics, Official Statistics and unofficial statistics. Unofficial statistics are used where there are gaps in the evidence base. Further information on National Statistics can be found on the Office for Statistics Regulation website.
Contact and feedback
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Production team: Michael Archer, Matt Bardrick, Jasmin Eng, Ros Finney, Luke Hamilton, Jenny Kemp, David Lee, Jeremy Levett, Will Norman, Maria Prokopiou, Andrew Scaife, Chris Silwood, Jonathan Smith, Beth White, Isabella Worth.
We are extremely grateful to the following for their expert contributions and guidance throughout the synthesis of this Report, helping to ensure it delivers a thorough analysis of a robust evidence base:
Professor Tim Benton, Chatham House
Dr Tom Breeze, University of Reading
Professor Bob Doherty, University of York and FixOurFood
Selvarani Elahi MBE, UK Deputy Government Chemist, LGC
Dr Pete Falloon, Met Office, Climate Service Lead - Food Farming & Natural Environment
Alan Hayes, Food Systems and Sustainability Advisor
Dr John Ingram, University of Oxford
Professor Peter Jackson, Institute for Sustainable Food, University of Sheffield
Dr Ian Noble, Mondelez International
Dr Bill Parker, Head of Technical Programmes, AHDB
Dr Maddy Power, Wellcome Trust