Research shines a light on impact of labour shortages on food security

A new Food Standards Agency study by N8 AgriFood researchers and Dr Roxana Barbulescu identifies food security risks in the UK.

A new study for the Food Standards Agency conducted by a team of researchers based at N8 AgriFood and Dr Roxana Barbulescu, Associate Professor in the School of Sociology and Social Policy at the University of Leeds, identifies food security risks caused by labour shortages including migrant recruitment and retention.

The study, which evaluates the impact of shortages in the workforce throughout the UK’s food system, will be used by the Food Standards Authority (FSA) to map out risks and develop resilience to improve the nation’s food security and availability. The FSA is the statutory agency and the national regulator for food standards.

The UK food and agriculture sector relies on seasonal migrant workers to plant, harvest and pack fruit and vegetables. Over 90% of seasonal workers in the UK are migrants and come on short-term visas for periods of six months or less. Farmers need to recruit over 55,000 people from overseas every year in order to provide sufficient staff for the UK horticulture sector. Delays, or lack of workers who plant harvest, pack and deliver British fresh fruit and vegetables increases risks and reduces availability and affordability for all consumers.

Whilst news agencies have reported greatly on the empty shelves in our local supermarkets and shortages with HGV drivers, across the labour market shortages remain systemic to the food system and are particularly acute in sectors where the predominant workforce are migrants. This report is the first of its kind to identify and classify the impact of labour shortages and evaluate its risks to our food security.

Dr Roxana Barbulescu

Seasonal migrant workers and British fruit and veg

In 2020, the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) funded Feeding the Nation: Seasonal Migrant Workers and Food Security during COVID-19 Pandemic, a collaboration between the University of Leeds and the University of Oxford to examine the experiences of seasonal agricultural migrant workers and farmers throughout 2020 and 2021 and the contemporary drivers of seasonal migration. The COVID-19 pandemic put significant strains on recruitment and protection of seasonal workers, yet they remained essential to ensure food security throughout the UK during the pandemic.

Findings from the research, drawn from remote qualitative interviews and data analysis, were to support policy interventions from their policy impact partner, the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), to mitigate risks for the UK’s food supply.

Further information  

Read the full report, The impact of labour shortages on UK food availability and safety published on the Food Standards Agency website.