Could the coronavirus lead to food rationing across the UK?
By Joe Harker
The early stages of coronavirus in the UK, because we are still in the early stages of a pandemic which could change the way we live for months, have seen empty shelves in supermarkets and concerns over a lack of supplies.
Shoppers have been urged not to panic buy as supermarkets have insisted their supply chains can handle normal levels of demand. If everyone buys like they would normally then it'd be fine.
However, people aren't buying normally and the prime minister has told them to only shop for essentials as infrequently as possible. Do supermarkets need to get more serious?
Professor Erik Millstone of the University of Sussex and Professor Tim Lang of the University of London said rationing was a potential answer to the problems retailers were facing.
Professor Millstone explained that three decades ago the UK's food retailers used to stock between 10 and 12 days worth of food, but faster supply chains and the adoption of the "just in time" model now means they only have between 24 and 36 hours.
Supply chains might be disrupted by the coronavirus, meaning products won't reach the shelves as quickly and shoppers will soon notice the difference.
Professor Lang said the UK needed to move into "demand management" rather than blaming shoppers for buying what they can when they see shelves bare of the things they'd normally need to buy.
Most supermarkets have already imposed item limits so it wouldn't be too much of a stretch for them to try rationing, a form of it is already in effect.
The Counter Claim:
However, since supermarkets are already imposing item limits it might not be necessary to force people into more strict rationing.
There's also been a shift in food manufacturing towards the things people really need to buy as product ranges have shrunk drastically to compensate for shortages of essentials.
Supermarket shelves will have more of what people need to buy and less of what they might want to buy, meaning people ought to be able to get the essentials they are shopping for.
If essential food is readily available then there should be little need for rationing, it will still require a change of approach from shoppers and supermarkets but telling people they'll have to ration could be unhelpful.
Supplies of fresh fruit and vegetables from countries such as Spain and Italy, both hard hit by the coronavirus, are among the hardest hit but the supply chains are moving to compensate for the increased demand and disruption.
Around 53 per cent of food that Brits consume is produced in the UK, meaning disruptions to imports could harm the number of products on the shelves.
Polling from YouGov indicates that 64 per cent of the public would approve of rationing and 25 per cent would oppose it, so most people would be willing to have food rations.
Around 8.4 million Brits are estimated to be in danger from potential food shortages caused by coronavirus and food banks are already struggling to deal with an increased demand for their services.