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Wednesday 20 September 2017

Food crisis plan on the menu

JOHN REYNOLDS

FOOD Minister Trevor Sargent is to spearhead a wide-ranging review of farming policy and food security later this year amid increasing fears that an oil shock or hauliers' strike could hit food supplies and deliveries to supermarkets.

The plans emerge as an investigation by the Sunday Independent reveals today that the Government currently has no food security plan in place for the country.

"Ireland now faces a similar challenge as Britain experienced during the Second World War, when its government realised there was a clear need for food security. They went from being 120 days self-reliant for food to 160 days. Their land under cultivation for food went from seven million acres to almost 20 million acres," the minister said.

The Departments of Health, Environment and Enterprise, Trade and Employment will co-operate on the review, which came to light after Feasta, a Dublin-based environmental economics organisation, urged the Government to draw up a food security roadmap and an emergency food plan.

"There's probably not a week's supply of food here for everyone in Dublin, let alone the country. The shelves would empty of food very quickly in the event of an emergency. We've seen food riots around the world, but it could easily happen here" said Bruce Darrell, an expert with Feasta.

Following reports that the British government recently discussed the possibility of supermarkets stockpiling food in the event of a national strike by hauliers there, Minister Sargent revealed he will raise the matter with stores here.

"Food security will be on the agenda at my next meetings with supermarkets. We are self-sufficient in meat and self-sufficient in butter and food exports far exceed our imports. But we need to build food security that is removed from the energy crisis and the oil price," he said.

Although Ireland is reasonably self-sufficient in fresh produce, a spokesperson for one supermarket here who asked not to be named, said that most processed and packaged foods were imported, and, therefore, at risk from any disruption to deliveries.

Stockpiling food would add to its costs and it currently had no contingency plan for an oil shock or hauliers' strike, he said, adding: "We'd probably rely on the army prioritising food deliveries in such a situation."

Jimmy Quinn, president of the Irish Road Hauliers' Association, supported this view, adding that stores typically managed the risk of disruption to deliveries by having a number of their own trucks and drivers as well as using outside contractors.

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