Fears that food prices will RISE as coronavirus sparks worker shortage

Fears that food prices are set to RISE as coronavirus sparks a shortage of workers to harvest in fields in the UK and around the world

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Rain Newton-Smith, the CBI’s chief economist said that food prices were ‘starting to emerge as a concern’

Food prices could surge in UK shops because of a shortage of workers available to help farmers due to to the global coronavirus pandemic, experts have warned.

Increasing numbers of workers are either ill themselves or unable to get to the fields because of restrictions on movement designed to slow the spread of the disease.

And the problem is not just confined to the UK, with France’s agriculture minister Didier Guillaume calling for a ‘shadow army’ of laid-off workers to help bring in the harvest. 

Ministers and experts in the UK have been at pains to tell the public there is no shortage of food, in a bid to discourage panic-buying.

Rain Newton-Smith, the CBI’s chief economist said that food prices were ‘starting to emerge as a concern’, in an interview with the Telegraph.

‘There is a real challenge if, as the crops come on stream, there aren’t the people that can go and pick the crops,’ she said.

‘How do you get people to do these roles and how do you make sure, if we’re still in social distancing, that they are not getting too close to each other?

‘There’s real pressure on supply so there is certainly some concern.’

Increasing numbers of workers are either ill themselves or unable to get to the fields because of restrictions on movement designed to slow the spread of the disease

Ministers and experts in the UK have been at pains to tell the public there is no shortage of food, in a bid to discourage panic-buying

France appealed on Tuesday to workers laid off by the coronavirus crisis to help farmers pick fruit and vegetables that will otherwise be left to rot in the fields due to a shortage of seasonal workers.

Farmers forecast a nationwide shortage of around 200,000 farm labourers over the harvest period as tight border restrictions imposed to help curb the spread of coronavirus make it much harder to recruit from outside France.

This has raised the prospect of strawberries, asparagus and other crops rotting in the fields.

With hotel receptionists, restaurant waiters, hairdressers and many others deprived of work by an unprecedented lockdown, Mr Guillaume  told them to ‘join the great army of French agriculture’ in an interview to a French TV channel.

France has so far reported nearly 20,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus and around 860 deaths.

Christine Lambert, head of France’s biggest farm union, FNSEA, said the farm sector needed 45,000 labourers in March and 80,000 in both April and May to help farmers, mainly to harvest fruit and vegetables.

‘Due to the closure of the Schengen borders but also to movement restrictions in Europe, the Poles and the Romanians who used to come won’t anymore,’ Ms Lambert wrote on Twitter.

‘If our call is not heard the production will remain in the fields and the entire fruit and vegetables sector will be damaged,’ she added.   

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