overnment responses to the Covid-19 pandemic have demonstrated how a lack of co-ordination can have notable impacts on the way it responds to crisis. Guidance from the Food Research Collaboration calls for three key actions which the government could take to improve it’s handling of shocks now and in the future.
Resilience of food systems is founded in the government’s ability to react to shocks. Currently, responsibility for food policy is handled by sixteen different departments in government and such disparate interests have been noted by observers.
Faced with the biggest shock to the food system since the last world war under the Covid-19 pandemic, one Whitehall insider noted of the government’s response “they’ve been winging it, they don’t have a plan, they never had one.”. With no central leadership and a prime minister in intensive care, corralling the food supply was left in the hands of retailers who stepped up to take control.
It was up to the British Retail Consortium to request consumers manage their purchasing habits, in a public advertisement placed in national publications. Further to that, top academics called for rationing to be introduced as a method to control the food supply.
In the longer term, it could lay the foundation for a more resilient food system
Coordinating government responses to the food supply can help create resilience, build trust and ensure greater food security. The guidance from Food Research Organisation highlights three key areas:
- The food policy response to Covid-19 needs stronger coordination to effectively address issues of both supply and demand in the food chain and also address the multiple dimensions of the UK food system.
- No fewer than 16 departments are involved in some aspect of food policy in England, with roles and responsibilities across the food system, along with scores of agencies, public bodies and advisory groups.
- Each of these departments has a clear role to play in addressing COVID-19. Existing coordination mechanisms could be adapted or used as models to establish the cross- government committee now needed.
Full details can be found in the Guidance Paper.