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Food shortages: Government accused of 'turning a blind eye' to empty shelves

Many people have reported seeing empty fruit and vegetable shelves across the country. (PA)
Many people have reported seeing empty fruit and vegetable shelves across the country. (PA)

The government has been accused of "turning a blind eye" to the food shortages impacting supermarkets across the UK.

In recent days several supermarket chains including Tesco and Morrisons have restricted the sale of tomatoes, cucumbers and some other fruit and vegetables.

Speaking in the House of Commons on Thursday, Liberal Democrat MP Wera Hobhouse said: "The government seems content in turning a blind eye to the urgency of the issue altogether."

She joined her party in calls for a Cobra [the government's civil contingencies committee] meeting on the issue.

Liberal Democrat spokesperson Christine Jardine said: "People are rightly alarmed about the chronic shortage of fruit and vegetables in our shops, but it seems the government has no urgent plan to fix it.

"This government has created chaos in the economy, an NHS on its knees, now they’re responsible for worsening food shortages through their failure to back British farming.

Read more: Food shortages: Fruit and veg industry 'hurt horribly by Brexit', ex-supermarket chief warns

"We need an urgent Cobra meeting, together with food experts, supermarkets and farmers, to hammer out an urgent solution to this crisis."

Environment secretary Therese Coffey defended the government in the Commons, and said she had been informed by industry experts that it was a temporary issue that should be resolved in two to four weeks.

Coffey blamed the unseasonal weather in Spain and north Africa, where much of Europe's tomatoes are grown over winter, for the crisis.

Responding to an urgent question, Coffey said: "I am led to believe by my officials, after discussion with industry and retailers, we anticipate the situation will last about another two to four weeks."

Empty tomato trays at a Tesco Express. (PA)
Empty tomato trays at a Tesco Express. (PA)

Coffey said other European countries had been facing similar issues, but MPs in the Commons contested this.

SNP MP Amy Callaghan said: "There are no reported shortages of food in France, Germany and other European net-food importers.

"Isn’t this a problem created by inward-looking little England, and this British government?"

Coexphal, an association of Spanish fruit and vegetable companies, told the Guardian tomato production was down 22% year on year, with cucumber production down 21%.

Therese Coffey said on Thursday she believed the food shortages would be a temporary issue. (PA)
Therese Coffey said on Thursday she believed the food shortages would be a temporary issue. (PA)

They said a recent cold snap, along with higher production costs and viruses had impacted production.

But other farmers have said they have not seen a decline in production and said the UK's issues were more to do with logistics and transport than a lack of supply.

A representative of another Spanish farming association, Asaja, told the paper: "Things are normal so far this season so I don’t know if it’s more a problem of UK logistics since the Brexit regulations came into effect.

"There’s enough produce to supply the market and the vegetable season is happening pretty normally.”

Some analysts based in the UK have pointed to Brexit as the problem, with images shared on social media showing supermarkets on the content full of fresh produce.

The BBC reported that Ireland, which is in the EU, is also having problems.