Expats living in the EU were sharing images of their supermarkets being flooded with fruit and vegetables when some UK grocery stores began rationing.
Britons living in Spain, France, Germany and other European states have been filming themselves in shops overflowing with tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers, claiming the empty shelves in their home countries are because they left the EU.
But experts and farmers have insisted that it has nothing to do with Brexit and that bad weather in Morocco and Spain, coupled with the high running price of gas-heated greenhouses in the UK, is to blame.
Many farmers are reducing production and delaying planting this year to cut costs and have accused supermarkets of refusing to pay British growers the price necessary to cover their costs.
Farmer and social media star Olly Harrison said: ‘It’s so easy. It’s the supermarkets, packers and suppliers who don’t want to pay the true cost of production. The cost of production has risen due to the price of gas and oil. You can’t afford to grow things out of season in the UK at the moment.
“Some people will blame Brexit for things not coming. But it’s just that the price isn’t fair at the moment.”
Expats have been gleefully shooting their full shelves in Spain (Malaga pictured) and across the EU amid the UK tomato shortage.
Spanish and Moroccan peppers, courgettes and aubergines in France
Empty fruit and vegetable shelves in an Asda in East London. The tomato shortage affecting UK supermarkets is spreading to other fruit and vegetables and is likely to last for weeks.
Empty aisles at Tesco (in Liverpool) as product shortages affect supermarkets across the country
Jack Ward of the British Growers Association said the rationing seen at Asda and Morrisons could have been foreseen after supermarkets spent months squeezing British suppliers due to the cost of living crisis and runaway inflation.
WHY IS THERE A SHORTAGE OF FRUIT AND VEGETABLES IN THE UK?
Cold weather in Spain and Morocco has drastically affected the availability of vegetables in UK markets along with rising energy prices.
Tim O’Malley of Nationwide Produce, a major importer and grower, said volatile growing conditions had caused wholesale spot prices for fresh lines to soar by as much as 300 percent.
Growers in Spain and elsewhere on the continent are reportedly sending produce to European supermarkets rather than the UK because they are more willing to pay higher prices.
High energy prices, linked to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, are also a factor because it has become more expensive to heat greenhouses.
While some critics have cited red tape on imports from Europe, industry expert Mr O’Malley said the biggest factor behind the crisis was ‘Mother Nature’ and specifically volatile weather.
He said: “I can honestly say that in the 40 years that I have been in this trade, I have never seen such high spot prices on such a wide range of products over such a long period of time.”
Agriculture Minister Mark Spencer told the NFU conference yesterday: “What has caused some of this is a frost in Morocco and Spain in November and December, this can damage a lot of the salad and brassica crops, of that we have traditionally depended on right now.” time of year so it has created a gap in the market.
‘It is very difficult for UK growers to grow cauliflowers, for example, during the winter as they are not frost hardy. You cannot grow cauliflowers in January in the UK unless you grow them in a greenhouse.’
Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability for the British Retail Consortium, which represents UK supermarkets, said: “Difficult weather conditions in southern Europe and north Africa have disrupted the harvest of some fruit and vegetables, including tomatoes and peppers.”
“While the disruption is expected to last a few weeks, supermarkets are adept at managing supply chain issues and are working with farmers to ensure customers can access a wide range of fresh produce.”
He said: “There is this determination to sell vegetables at ever lower costs, without worrying about sustainability and this is coming home.”
“There is a determination to sell vegetables at ever lower costs, and this is coming home.”
Asda and Morrisons are already rationing sales of vegetables, with shoppers sharing images of empty shelves in the produce sections of supermarkets across the country, including Tesco.
And the shortage of products such as tomatoes and cauliflowers will worsen, warned the National Union of Farmers (NFU).
Cold weather and frost in Spain and Morocco, which supply much of Britain’s winter vegetables, have led to drastic supply shortages.
The shortage covers tomatoes, onions, peppers, lettuce, broccoli, cucumbers, cauliflower and cabbage.
At the same time, frost damage to British household crops such as carrots, cabbage, parsnips and cauliflower mean many fields have been lost.
The crisis has deepened in recent weeks as soaring energy costs have forced British farmers to shut down greenhouses as they desperately try to make ends meet.
Shoppers in some Asda stores have been told they can buy up to three packs of tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, lettuce, salad bags, broccoli, cauliflower and raspberries at a time as supplies run low at several outlets. .
Morrisons said it will limit purchases to two packs per customer of tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce and peppers from tomorrow.
NFU President Minette Batters told the organization’s conference yesterday that “enormous cost inflation” with the cost of fertilizer up 169 percent, energy up 79 percent and animal feed up 57 percent were affecting farmers.
She said the crisis will worsen: “Production of salad ingredients such as tomatoes and cucumbers is expected to fall to the lowest levels since records began in 1985.”
She told Sky News: “Everyone wants to avoid rationing, effectively, which is what we saw with eggs in December.”
He added that “the last thing anyone wants to do is create a level of panic buying” and hopes rationing can be avoided.
But she said: “I think there will be challenges in the availability of some foods,” including tomatoes, peppers and general salad ingredients, which are often grown in heated indoor buildings.
“Field vegetables” such as potatoes, cauliflower and purple broccoli could also be affected, he said.
In a speech to the NFU conference, Ms Batters said “time is running out” for the government to act.
Pranksters flood eBay and Facebook marketplace with £1,000 tomatoes
Four cherry tomatoes for £1,000 on eBay
Pranksters on Facebook and eBay have been selling fruit and vegetables for hundreds or even thousands of pounds.
Social media is awash with joke posts showing tomatoes bought from UK supermarkets.
The British Retail Consortium warned that tomatoes were running low at supermarkets, including Tesco and Sainsbury’s, due to “difficult weather conditions” in southern Europe and north Africa.
Britain is dependent on imports during the winter, typically importing around 90 percent of crops such as cucumbers and tomatoes, though it is self-sufficient in the summer months.
Tim O’Malley of Nationwide Produce, a major importer and grower, said the delivery price for a box of peppers rose from £8-£9 to around £22, while a box of tomatoes rose from £7-£9. 8 to £14.
Courgettes have risen from £5-£7 to £12, iceberg lettuce from £6-£8 to £19 and Dutch onions from £250-£270 per tonne to £700.
One shopper, Hilary Paterson-Jones, said she had to visit four supermarkets in her hometown of Holyhead, Anglesey, to complete her weekly shopping.
She said: ‘There was hardly any fresh produce at Tesco. At Morrisons I asked a young member of staff what was going on and he told me there was nothing in the back shops.
“The same thing was happening at Aldi and Lidl, it seemed to be affecting all the supermarkets.”
An Asda spokesperson said: ‘Like other supermarkets, we are experiencing sourcing challenges on some produce that is grown in southern Spain and North Africa.
“We have introduced a temporary limit of three of each product in a very small number of fruit and vegetable lines, so that customers can pick up the products they are looking for.”
The crisis has unfolded in recent weeks as soaring energy costs have forced British farmers to shut down greenhouses as they desperately try to make ends meet.
Empty fruit and vegetable shelves photographed yesterday in a Morrisons store in Paignton
Pictured, clockwise from top left: cucumber, potatoes, tomatoes, sprouted broccoli, bell peppers, cauliflower
Tesco said there are “no limits” on sales of its vegetables. Morrisons has been contacted for comment.
A Morrisons spokesperson said: “We are starting to transition into the UK growing season, so as well as finding alternatives to produce in Spain and North Africa, we will soon see more British produce on the shelves.”