‘Let ’em eat turnips’: What’s behind Britain’s vegetable shortages
“Let Them Eat Turnips”
What’s behind the vegetable shortage in the UK
02/25/2023, 08:11 am
Vegetables are currently scarce in UK supermarkets and can therefore only be offered in limited quantities. The government refers to bad weather in the growing regions and advises valuing local specialties. But it’s not that easy.
The turnip is booming in Britain right now – thanks to Agriculture Minister Therese Coffey. Tomatoes, cucumbers and lettuce are currently hard to come by, supermarkets are rationing some varieties, including market leader Tesco and discounter Aldi. Coffey, however, was demonstratively unconcerned. Rather, the British should appreciate the local specialties, demanded the conservative politician and said: “A lot of people are currently eating turnips.” Now she has the salad – or rather the mockery. “Let them eat turnips,” headlined the Daily Mirror newspaper, in reference to the famous quote put into the mouth of French Queen Marie-Antoinette, “If they have no bread, they should eat cake.”
The best beet recipes are searched for on social media. “The country needs you. What can you make with beets – especially as a substitute for tomatoes,” tweeted scientist Mike Galsworthy, half-jokingly, to celebrity chef Nigella Lawson. Minister Coffey said the situation will have eased in two to four weeks. But the situation is more serious, the industry is convinced. “Tomatoes, peppers and aubergines will not be available in bulk until May, so it will take more than a couple of weeks,” said Lee Stiles of the BBC’s Lea Valley Growers Association (LVGA). It is too late for British producers to make up for the shortage – they should have planted earlier for that.
Coffey: “We can’t control the weather in Spain”
On Friday, leek producers warned that domestic supplies could be exhausted by April. For David’s Day on March 1st, when many Welsh people prepare leeks in honor of their national holiday, many consumers would probably already have to resort to imported goods. For the government it is clear who is to blame: the unusually cold weather in the growing regions of Spain and Morocco. “We cannot control the weather in Spain,” said Minister Coffey at the annual meeting of the farmers’ association NFU. The weather is indeed a factor, emphasized food expert Gedfutter. But just one reason of many. Lining referred to Germany: There are no bottlenecks there, as German retailers recently confirmed in a survey by the German Press Agency.
Industry experts accuse the British government of a cabbage and turnip policy. For example, she excluded vegetable producers from energy subsidies despite rising electricity and gas prices after the start of the Russian war against Ukraine. The use of greenhouses to grow tomatoes, for example, is therefore no longer worthwhile in winter. “They don’t plant as much stuff here anymore because it’s uneconomical,” Adam Leyland, editor-in-chief of The Grocer, told the BBC. The result: Great Britain imports around 95 percent of the tomatoes in winter. But now only a quarter of the goods ordered in Spain or Morocco have arrived. Expert Lining emphasized that retailers would pay the manufacturers far too little. The model with fixed prices only works when inflation is low.
Elaborate customs formalities discourage traders
But most recently, the increase in consumer prices was a good 10 percent, and food inflation was even higher. The “salad days” – the salad days, as the days of carefree youth are called in English – are over, so Futter. Then there is Brexit. Even if Greg Hands, German-speaking Secretary General of the Conservative Party, recently emphasized that food prices in the euro zone have risen even more and that the bottlenecks have nothing to do with Brexit – experts have a different opinion. For example, British producers lack the seasonal workers who would otherwise come from EU countries such as Romania to pick.
The reason for this is stricter rules for workers after leaving the EU. “The reports from the island prove the great advantage of the EU internal market for the secure supply of food in Germany,” said Farmers’ Union President Joachim Rukwied of the “Rheinische Post”. “The bureaucratic and time-consuming customs formalities deter many traders, and the scarce goods remain on the continent.” Pekka Pesonen of the EU farmers’ association Copa-Cogeca told the Financial Times: “If you pay enough there will always be sources, but I don’t know if British retailers are willing to pay extremely high prices.”