Food Supply, Food Security & Civil Unrest

Vulnerabilities in the food supply chain and the risk of civil unrest arising from food shortages has been examined by researchers from the University of York and Anglia Ruskin University, and is published in the journal Sustainability.

In the study, civil unrest is classified as over 30,000 people in the UK suffering violent injury in one year through events such as demonstrations and violent looting. 

Likelihood of civil unrest

The study queried 58 experts within the food sector a variety of questions on food supply and security. Just over 40% of the food experts surveyed believe that civil unrest in the UK in the next 10 years was either possible (38%) or more likely than not (3%). Over the next 50 years, this increased to nearly 80% of experts believing civil unrest was either possible (45%), more likely than not (24%), or very likely (10%). 

80% of respondents believe logistical distribution issues leading to shortages are the most likely food-related cause of civil unrest in the next 10 years. But, considered over a 50-year horizon, they said catastrophic failure resulting in insufficient food to feed the UK population, rather than distribution problems, would be the most likely cause.

Reasons behind potential food shortages

The respondents felt that a combination of factors – including ecological collapse, trade restrictions, a financial crash, rogue AI, a new pandemic, and animal or plant pathogens – would combine to be the most likely cause(s) of food shortages.

Professor Sarah Bridle, Chair of Food, Climate and Society at the University of York, said: ““Covid-19, Brexit and the cost of living crisis have shown the UK is already exposed to certain risks. The food system faces significant challenges. We are experiencing an increasing number of extreme weather events, many driven by climate change. It is entirely possible that in the coming decades extreme weather will cause major crop yield failures across multiple breadbaskets. We need a food system designed not just for optimal efficiency, but also for resilience.”

Professor Aled Jones, Director of the Global Sustainability Institute at Anglia Ruskin University, and also lead author, said: “By mapping out the potential risks, and their possible causes, we hope this report will assist with the preparations needed to avoid a UK food system catastrophe”.

Risk Assess the Supply Chain

It is important for businesses to consider risks to the supply chain for suppliers and customers and their own processes in order to build in resilience and support prevention, preparedness, response and recovery planning.

Our own Mills & Reeve seminar on the food supply chain from both a commercial and regulatory planning perspective is on Tuesday 7 November.

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