Impact of COVID, Brexit and climate change on food we buy


October 19, 2021

A new report published by Public Health Wales highlights how the combined influences of Brexit, Coronavirus and climate change will potentially impact all of us through the food that we are able to buy. 

Liz Green, Consultant in Public Health, Policy and International Health at Public Health Wales, said: “Food security is an important determinant of health and wellbeing at both a national population level, but also at an individual and community level. 

“The whole population is affected by food security to some degree but vulnerable population groups will be particularly impacted negatively including those on low incomes, women, families with children, farmers, fishers and those who live in areas of deprivation. 

“The Triple Challenge has already, and will continue to have, major, multifaceted and inequitable impacts on population groups across Wales which has highlighted the need to address this issue and explore it in more depth. The three core pillars of food security comprise of availability, access and utilisation of food.” 

The paper forms part of a series of reports that highlight how this ‘triple challenge’ will have direct and indirect impacts on the health and wellbeing of the population and how the current point in time presents a window of opportunity to strengthen public health messaging around health behaviours with the increased profile of that Coronavirus has put on health and wellbeing for us all.  

Key findings for how the three influences may effect food availability are: 

- The outset of the pandemic highlighted the effects that consumer behaviour can have on food supply, with panic buying and stockpiling pushing the food supplies in the UK towards an unstable situation. 

- Panic buying exposed the UK’s over reliance of ‘just in time’ deliveries, strategies and imported food and other products. 

- So far, there has been little evidence of food supply chains being dramatically affected by the Triple Challenge, resulting in the continued wide availability of food.   

- During the pandemic, constraints on the transport of particular types of food to market has restricted supply. For example, airfreighted fruit and vegetables have experienced disruption as a combination of the EU withdrawal and the pandemic and has been exacerbated by a shortage of HGV drivers. 

- Brexit has not had the major anticipated impact on supply chains predicted so far, although some evidence acknowledges it as an issue, particularly at ports with requirements for new paperwork and Coronavirus containment precautions. 

- Brexit planning has indicated that any food distribution and disruption in food supply chains could have a negative impact on vulnerable groups including those who are on a low income.

- Climate change has highlighted additional challenges for food supply in both the short and long term, with extreme weather events having the potential to affect global food production, trade and supply chains, making prices more volatile and / or altering productivity in the long-term.  

- Combined with Brexit and the potential impact of climate change, the importance of shorter supply chains to maintain food security has been revealed by the pandemic which also has the ability to disrupt global supply chains. For example, cereal exporting countries could reduce their level of exports, or be affected by lack of harvesters and this could cause a crisis in countries heavily reliant on this produce and shortages in others such as the UK.

Liz continues: “Wales does not have its own separate food system. It is shaped by wider international, national and local policies such as trade, the economy and environmental sustainability which interact in a complex and multidimensional way and present a series of ‘unknown unknowns’ for policy makers and health and wellbeing. 

“However the present situation provides an opportunity for Wales and the UK to rethink food policy and supply including looking at ways which will be good for environmental sustainability, for example, shorter supply chains could mean less packaging, processing and reduced food miles and could strengthen the importance of Welsh farmers in the UK food system.

“Evidence suggests this may have a knock-on impact on diet and health behaviours as people adapt to buying more seasonal and locally produced food.”  

To read the report in full please click here.