A rationing scheme is needed to see the country through the coronavirus pandemic, a food policy expert has said.
Professor Tim Lang has written to Boris Johnson “out of immediate concern about the emerging food crisis”, and has described public messaging about food supply as “weak and unconvincing”.
He also criticised the government for “blaming” consumers who are going out to buy groceries to last a few days.
The retail industry has insisted there is enough food for everyone, and ministers have said rationing is unnecessary.
Environment secretary George Eustice has said there is no shortage of food in the country, with manufacturers having increased production by 50%.
But shoppers, including NHS staff and elderly shoppers during priority shopping hours, have struggled to get food due to long queues and empty shelves in supermarkets.
In a letter to the prime minister dated 20 March, experts including Professor Lang, a professor of food policy at City, University of London, called on the government to “initiate a health-based food-rationing scheme to see the country through this crisis”.
The letter says: “This should start from Public Health England’s Eatwell Plate, our official nutrition guidelines, and draw on expertise from the devolved administrations, and relevant disciplines.”
The experts call on the government to: “Announce immediately that this new Food Rationing Scheme will be open, equitable and based on health needs, taking account of age, income, and vulnerability, and that this will be applied UK-wide.”
They are also calling on the government to “rapidly review options for ensuring people on low incomes have sufficient money to buy a decent diet”, and have suggested a national voucher scheme redeemable for nutritionally sound purchases such as fruit and vegetables.
Prof Lang told the PA news agency the current situation facing the country is “Brexit times 20”, and criticised the government for blaming the public, suggesting that the term “stockpiling” is being used incorrectly.
“Stockpiling means you get enough food for six months or a year,” he said.
Prof Lang said it is “an entirely understandable situation” that people are turning to supermarkets more in light of cafes and restaurants being closed.
He said it is “unacceptable” to blame the consumer, adding: “This is not the way to treat the public.”
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The academic warned of a “very difficult period” ahead, adding: “We’ve got to do demand management, not just blame people when they start getting three days or a week’s food supply.
“That’s nothing. Nothing. In my childhood, that’s what everyone did.”
He said there needs to be a public food committee that “addresses the interest of the public”, adding: “What is being exposed is the lack of devolved regional and local food engagement.
“We’re in a bad place, to be stark with you.”
Prof Lang said the public is beginning to “act rationally in some respects” by “stocking up a little bit”. He said: “They’re doing what we used to call a larder.
“The public is absolutely understandable to act in a fearful way. The way to deal with food fears in these circumstances is not to start blaming them.
“It’s stupid. Absolutely stupid.”