A healthy diet in the UK will be put at risk by climate breakdown as European droughts shrink fresh fruit and vegetable supplies, experts have said.
Fresh produce from the Mediterranean, upon which the UK is reliant, will become more expensive and harder to obtain as extreme heat causes yields to reduce, putting a healthy diet out of reach of the poorest in society, according to a report by the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU).
Many foods imported from the Mediterranean cannot be grown in the UK for at least parts of the year, or have to be grown indoors, using more expensive and energy-intensive processes to protect them and heat the growing space. Many cannot be grown in the UK at scale. The former category includes cauliflowers, broccoli and strawberries. It also includes nearly two-thirds of the cucumbers and tomatoes imported to the UK, and nearly a fifth of the overall supply of onions.
Additionally, more than half of the UK’s lemons and sweet peppers come from the Mediterranean, along with two-thirds of all oranges and 40% of table grapes. Olive oil is also affected by extreme temperatures; the UK gets 80% of its supplies from the region. This year, it has been one of the foodstuffs with the sharpest increases in price, adding to inflation.
According to the report, in 2022 just over a quarter of UK food imports – 9.8bn kg, worth just over £16bn – came from the Mediterranean region, mostly fresh fruit and vegetables. Spain, which is experiencing some of the worst extreme heat and drought, accounted for 7% of UK food imports – worth £4bn.
Gareth Redmond-King, the head of international programme at the Energy & Climate intelligence Unit, said: “As well as a climate crisis, we’re in a public health crisis too. Most of us already don’t eat enough fruit and veg, and often healthier diets already tend to cost more. As the impacts of climate change are likely to make the healthy food we should be eating more of even more expensive, it becomes even less accessible to the poorest in society.”
He added that many of these crops cannot be grown year-round in the UK at the levels required to feed the population, so if Europe burns, the country will have worsening shortages of fresh fruit and vegetables.
“The heat we’ve seen in Europe this summer and in April would be all but impossible without climate change,” he said. “These impacts will worsen as we continue to burn fossil fuels and emit greenhouse gases, leaving the UK facing an unpleasant reality in a future of more shortages and higher costs. This should be a wakeup call about the vulnerability of our food supply chains to climate change. We can’t simply grow our way out of the problem by producing many of these foods in the UK.
“The only sure-fire way to avoid even worse and more dangerous impacts is to keep global temperature rises to 1.5C, and the only way to do that is to cut our emissions to net zero.”
Previous ECIU analysis found that the climate crisis and fossil fuel prices had added more than £400 to household shopping bills in 2022, increasing the total annual UK food shopping bill by about £11.4bn.
Source : The Guardian