THE UK Government has been criticised for being slow off the mark to protect food supply chains at the start of the Covid-19 outbreak.

A report carried out by Westminster's cross party Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee has found that the Government appeared unprepared for the surge in consumer demand at the start of lockdown and the empty supermarket shelves that followed, despite pre-warning from countries elsewhere.

On that basis, the committee has laid out a series of lessons that it urges the government to learn, and measures to be implemented before a possible second wave this winter, or in the case of local lockdowns.

Chair of the EFRA Committee, Neil Parish MP, said: "Despite warnings from other countries, it seemed as though the Government was constantly playing catch-up in trying to support the food industry during this crisis. The Government’s actions to lockdown the country and close businesses were necessary, but they had huge impacts on the food supply chain.

“Once the pandemic set in, Defra responded well,” he continued. “However, there were misunderstandings in Government about where – and how – people were going to get their food just before and during lockdown. Rather than 'panic', it was entirely reasonable that many people would be buying much more food in shops and online. Excluding convenience stores and discount retailers from the national voucher scheme for free school meals also showed a significant misunderstanding of where families need to shop.

“Food banks and other food redistribution organisations have reacted heroically to a disturbing spike in demand for food aid, but this problem is likely to get worse before it gets better,” he concluded.

The use of foodbanks almost doubled during lockdown. The EFRA committee has called on the Government to continue to fund the £5 million a year FareShare project to redistribute otherwise wasted food from farmgate to frontline community groups.

Other key recommendations within the report include improving communication between the Government and the public regarding food supply in shops in the event of a second wave.

Consideration for people with disabilities and other vulnerabilities must also be built into the Government's emergency planning, so that future crises do not disproportionately impact certain disadvantaged groups.

Further, the Government is urged to consult on whether the 'Right to Food' should be given a legislative footing; it is recommended that the Government responds to the upcoming National Food Strategy within six months; and that the Agriculture Bill should be amended so that food security assessments occur annually, rather than every five years as currently proposed.