The government say there is no shortage of food – as some people continue to panic-buy due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Environment Secretary George Eustice said there is “significant resilience in our food supply chain” and that there is not a shortage of food.
He said: “There isn’t a shortage of food, the challenge that we’ve had is getting food to shelves in time when people have been purchasing more.
“That’s why we have taken steps including setting aside delivery curfews so that lorries can run around the clock, relaxing driver hours to ensure the deliveries can take place more frequently and we are in discussions with other Government colleagues in MHCLG around other support that we would deliver locally to get food to those who are self isolating.”
Shadow environment secretary Luke Pollard said “there are millions already in food poverty and this is now an immediate family emergency for many of those”.
He added: “With food banks running low on food, many volunteers of food banks over the age of 70 and soon needing to self-isolate, what steps is he taking to assist those in genuine hunger today?”
Mr Eustice replied: “I’ve been in regular, daily calls with the food supply sector that included discussions around food banks and we are in dialogue with supermarkets to ensure we can make sure they get access to the supplies that they need.”
He added: “We are also, in Government, working on specific proposals to help the most vulnerable, those with clinical problems, to ensure that we can get food to them, should they be self-isolating.”
Mr Pollard asked Mr Eustice “to ensure every supermarket, not just the Co-Op, are still contributing to food banks”.
He said: “We won’t get through this crisis unless there’s Government intervention to support those people and ensure that we have those food supply chains remaining open.”
Mr Eustice replied: “We must take action to set aside any obstacles to making the food supply chain operate in a way that will ensure people have food.
“On the issue of food banks, as I said, we are in discussions with supermarkets about this. We have also had discussions with them around competition law and will take whatever action is necessary to ensure they can jointly plan their approach to the matters.
“For the most vulnerable, we are working on proposals which my colleagues in the MHCLG will be announcing shortly.”
Most supermarkets have now restricted the number of certain items people can purchase.
A dozen major supermarket chains also released a joint statement urging people to be considerate and to think of others.
The chains said: “We know that many of you are worried about the spread of coronavirus (Covid-19). We want to let you know that we are doing everything we can so that you and your families have the food and essentials you need.
“We are working closely with Government and our suppliers to keep food moving quickly through the system and making more deliveries to our stores to ensure our shelves are stocked.
“Those of us with online delivery and click-and-collect services are running them at full capacity to help you get the products when you need them.
“We thank all our colleagues in stores and supply chains who are working day and night to keep the nation fed. But we need your help too.
“We would ask everyone to be considerate in the way they shop.
“We understand your concerns but buying more than is needed can sometimes mean that others are left without. There is enough for everyone if we all work together.
“Together we can make sure we are looking out for family, friends, neighbours.
“Together we will care for those around us and those who are elderly, vulnerable or choosing to remain at home.
“We are doing all we can to rise to this challenge. Serving you and keeping you and everyone who works with us safe will always be our priority.”
Former Conservative environment, food and rural affairs minister Theresa Villiers (Chipping Barnet) said: “Getting home deliveries to potentially millions of self-isolating households is a massive logistical exercise.
“Is it time for the Government to think about further intervention but also, I’m afraid, the suspension of competition law rules so retailers and haulage companies can work together to meet this huge national challenge?”
Mr Eustice responded: “(Ms Villiers) make a very important point and that’s why earlier this week we had a detailed workshop with both retailers and food processors to identify what they would like to do and what changes to competition law we would need to consider and implement, and we are working on that right now.”
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