Government needs to launch food rationing scheme, claim experts

Empty shelves at a Morrisons supermarket. Photograph: Owen Humphreys/PA Wire.

Empty shelves at a Morrisons supermarket. Photograph: Owen Humphreys/PA Wire. - Credit: PA

A rationing scheme is needed to see the country through the coronavirus pandemic, food policy experts have warned.

Professor Tim Lang has written to the prime minister 'out of immediate concern about the emerging food crisis' and in the letter described public messaging about food supply as 'weak and unconvincing'.

He also criticised the government for 'blaming' consumers who are going out to buy groceries to last a few days.

The retail industry has insisted there is enough food for everyone and ministers have said rationing is unnecessary, but customers have been faced with empty shelves and have struggled to get everything on their shopping lists.

Environment secretary George Eustice has said there is no shortage of food in the country, with manufacturers having increased production by 50%.

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But in a letter to Boris Johnsonm experts including Prof Lang, a professor of food policy at City, University of London, called on the government to 'initiate a health-based food-rationing scheme to see the country through this crisis'.

The letter says: 'This should start from Public Health England's Eatwell Plate, our official nutrition guidelines, and draw on expertise from the devolved administrations, and relevant disciplines.'

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The professor's letter calls on the government to: 'Announce immediately that this new Food Rationing Scheme will be open, equitable and based on health needs, taking account of age, income, and vulnerability, and that this will be applied UK-wide.'

The experts are also calling on the government to 'rapidly review options for ensuring people on low incomes have sufficient money to buy a decent diet', and suggested a national voucher scheme redeemable for nutritionally sound purchases such as fruit and vegetables.

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Prof Lang said the current situation facing the country is 'Brexit times 20', and criticised the government for blaming the public 'when they buy food', suggesting that the term 'stock-piling' is being used incorrectly.

He said it is 'unacceptable' to blame the consumer, telling the PA news agency: 'This is unacceptable. This is not the way to treat the public in a good way.'

He added a 'very difficult period' is ahead. 'We've got to do demand management, not just blame people when they start getting three days or a week's food supply.

'That's nothing. Nothing. In my childhood, that's what everyone did.'

The professor said the public are beginning to 'act rationally in some respects' by 'stocking up a little bit', adding: 'They're doing what we used to call a larder.'

Meanwhile, Allergy UK said it is very aware of the impact of 'bulk buying' on people who need 'free-from' products.

The charity said: 'We have highlighted this issue through all our communication channels and are working together with other partners to bring this to the attention of government departments and agencies on the basis of the needs of people living with food allergy and its potential status as an 'underlying condition'.

'We are also contacting all the major supermarkets directly to bring this to their attention and ask what action can be taken.'

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