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Energy crisis could trigger food shortages

By EARLE GALE in London | China Daily Global | Updated: 2022-08-12 09:16

Signage is seen on food shelves inside a Sainsbury's supermarket in Richmond, west London, Britain, June 27, 2022. [Photo/Xinhua]

Any loss of power this winter would be disastrous for producers, experts claim

The worrying prediction suggests blackouts could hit mechanized producers, such as dairy farmers that use automated milking machines, and big energy consumers, such as market gardeners that use heated greenhouses.

The problem is so worrying, the UK government has already begun contingency planning with the food industry, The Telegraph newspaper reported.

Ian Wright, co-chair of the Food and Drink Sector Council, a partnership between the government and the industry, told the paper: "It all depends on the nature of the blackouts but some rely on 24-hour production and can't just stop and start the process. Milking cows, for example, is a continuous process. There is a risk that the cows become overburdened."

Wright, a former chief executive of the Food and Drink Federation, said cows become ill if they are not milked regularly and farmers may be forced to slaughter herds as a result.

A government spokesman told reporters a winter blackout is not expected, but confirmed ministers have begun planning for such an eventuality.

"This is not something we expect to happen," he said. "The UK has a highly resilient food supply chain… and we engage extensively with stakeholders across the whole food supply chain to ensure we are ready for all eventualities, even the ones we don't expect to happen."

The prospect of blackouts hitting the UK's energy grid this winter was raised by analysts who noted outages could happen in January because of energy shortages created by the Russia-Ukraine conflict and anticipated extra-cold temperatures.

The scarcity of energy supplies has pushed up the cost of fuel and driven up energy bills, with the annual cost of heating a home expected to rise to more than 4,400 pounds ($5,370) by next April. In January 2022, the cost stood at 1,277 pounds.

The high price of energy has helped drive rampant inflation in the UK, which is likely to hit 13 percent by the end of the year.

The situation prompted consumer advocate Martin Lewis, from Money Saving Expert, to describe the situation this week as "a national crisis".

The BBC reported that a survey by comparison website Uswitch shows many UK households are already falling behind on their energy bill payments as a result.

The site's survey of 2,000 people found 25 percent of respondents were more than 200 pounds down on where they should be. It said the debt level was treble that of September 2021.

The UK government has announced a support package that includes a universal 400-pound discount on energy bills and an additional 650 pounds for people who are most in need. But poverty advocates have said more help is needed.

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