City Food Lecture

Supply chains need to be shorter and simpler

A new national food policy is needed to deal with current challenges, according to the City Food Lecture

The UK must shorten and reduce the complexity of its food supply chains if it hopes to ensure future food security and reduce the opportunities for fraud this presents, were key messages to emerge from this year’s City Food Lecture held in London last month.

Giving Professor Chris Elliott’s 2017 lecture, who was unable to present the paper himself, Michael Bell, executive director of the Northern Ireland Food and Drink Association, and a close associate of Elliott, emphasised the imperative of reducing supply chain length.

It was a view endorsed by two other panellists: outgoing Tesco quality director Tim Smith and Caroline Drummond, chief executive of LEAF, the farming and environment charity, in the debate that followed the lecture.

“Principally, supply chains must be shortened to be strong and if they get very extended and very complex, they become weaker,” said Bell, quoting Elliott’s view on the subject. Elliott is a professor of food safety, and founder of the Institute for Global Food Security at Queen’s University Belfast.

Food sold in the UK was too cheap

The lecture, titled ‘Does it matter where our food comes from?’, called for a new approach to food production. It highlighted the urgency of reconnecting people with their food and suggested food sold in the UK was too cheap.

“I don’t have such a pessimistic view of the ability of the food supply system,” said Tesco’s Smith. “We are responding to people’s growing need for convenience and for their changing ways of living.

“On provenance, it really matters to customers to know where their food comes from. Being transparent and having short supply chains – absolutely right.

‘Being transparent’

“The challenge for us as a nation is if we send a market signal – which might be, we want to buy more British poultry for use in poultry products –the length of time it takes the farming system to respond to that is longer than any of us would like.”

However, he added: “We want affordable, sustainable, healthy and responsibly-sourced food systems. But as soon as you put all of those into the equation, life becomes a lot more difficult.”

Despite calls from the audience for more seasonal food, fellow panellist, writer and broadcaster Tim Hayward argued that consumer demand for produce year-round, could not now be reversed.

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Comments (2)

Julian Stephens - 07 Mar 2017 | 07:03

Supply chain resilience

Another consequence of increasingly complex supply chains is resilience. The CORE project (see e.g. is an EC initiative to increase resilience in supply chains, partly through increased data exchange along the supply chain. This is interesting for food supply chains because one of the "spin-off" benefits is increased traceability.

07-Mar-2017 at 19:03 GMT

Grace Mulei. - 02 Mar 2017 | 04:41

Capital Investment in Dry Lands Productivity Potential

Dear All, Fast productivity potential is guaranteed in dry lands Hot climate promotes fast crop yield. Investor can harvest twice a year with other triple value chain benefits. Wonder if UK can consider investing in dry lands incubator firms in partnership with SAPRO Planet Company. Orchard agriculture and poultry farming can work successfully. Underground water is available. Thank you Grace Mulei SAPRO Planet Compant

02-Mar-2017 at 16:41 GMT

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