The Independent

Fruit and veg shortage hits schoolchil­dren’s lunches


Millions of pupils could miss out on fresh fruits and vegetables after the UK’s food shortages hit school lunches.

School meal providers say items such as lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers are among the items off the menu due to “extreme shortages” and “unviable costs”. Ministers are so concerned

about the problem that they are working with schools to try to minimise the impact. It comes after consumers reported finding fruit and vegetable aisles stripped bare or low in goods, sparking concerns over Britain’s future food security.

In an email sent to primary schools, seen by The Independen­t, school meals provider Caterlink, which provides more than a million meals a week to 1,300 schools, said certain fresh goods would not be available for two weeks from 1 March. As well as salad items, onions, aubergines and fresh peppers are also unavailabl­e due to “poor planting conditions” brought on by last summer’s droughts and recent cold temperatur­es in the UK and Europe, it said. “Some growers are seeing 30-40 per cent reductions in usable yield,” the email added.

Neil Fuller, manager director of Caterlink, told The Independen­t: “We’re experienci­ng shortages and increased costs of some fresh fruit and vegetables. We continue to ensure all schools have access to fruit and vegetables as part of balanced menu options.” Sodexo, which caters for 500 primary and secondary schools across the UK and Ireland, said they had been forced to adjust menus by using frozen and tinned fruit and vegetables. Pointing to energy prices, Steven Hawkins, managing director for schools, said: “Like many UK supermarke­ts and food service providers, we are also currently experienci­ng shortages of some fruit and vegetable items, particular­ly tomatoes and cucumbers, due to grocers struggling to afford to heat their greenhouse­s because of increased energy prices.”

One catering company added that prices for salad items had risen by 50 per cent above the seasonal average in some cases. A range of issues has led to shortages of fruit and vegetables, including a combinatio­n of extreme weather and transport problems in the UK, Africa and Europe.

In winter, the UK imports around 95 per cent of its tomatoes and 90 per cent of its lettuces, mostly from Spain and north Africa. Growers and suppliers in Morocco have faced cold weather, heavy rain, flooding and cancelled ferries – all of which have reduced the amount of fruit and veg reaching Britain. One company said rising fuel costs and new restrictio­ns on heating

greenhouse­s in Holland had also hit the country’s yield of tomatoes and cucumbers.

Meanwhile, UK growers say that because of higher electricit­y prices, they planted produce later this year to reduce their energy consumptio­n in greenhouse­s. They also blame a combinatio­n of rising transporta­tion costs following fuel price hikes and inflation pushing up prices for seeds, fertiliser and feed. Costs of checking seeds entering the UK for viruses have also risen, while the heatwave disrupted the cycle of planting and harvesting crops such as lettuce.

Charity School Food Matters, which campaigns to improve access to healthy food, said that the government must do all it can to make sure children’s health is not affected by the shortages. Stephanie Slater, founder and chief executive, said: “For many children, school provides the only hot meal of the day and catering teams across the country are working tirelessly to give them the nutritious meal they need to thrive. The government must do all it can to ensure schools are able to deliver hot and healthy meals. Our children’s health should be a priority, and we urge the government to work harder with caterers and suppliers to secure the resilience of the school food system.”

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Associatio­n of School and College Leaders, said that the supply chain problems and rising

costs faced by school caterers “serve to jeopardise the variety and quality of food available to pupils”. He said the shortages were particular­ly concerning for children on free school meals, whose families rely on them being able to get a healthy meal at school.

Shadow minister for schools Stephen Morgan said: “These food shortages are the result of government’s indifferen­ce and dithering. In the midst of a cost of living crisis where so many families are struggling, ministers have allowed these shortages to now hit schools and our children.” Liberal Democrat education spokespers­on Munria Wilson said: “The shortage of fruit and veg is putting our children’s right to healthy school food at risk. Yet the environmen­t secretary’s solution would just be to give them all a plate of turnips. This is no longer one department’s problem. We need government and industry round the table at a Cobra meeting, not empty supermarke­t shelves and disappoint­ed children.”

A government spokespers­on said: “We understand public concerns around the supply of fresh vegetables, but the UK has a highly resilient food supply chain and is well equipped to deal with disruption. We’re working with schools and suppliers to manage any impact on school food and to make sure children continue to receive a nutritious and healthy meal.”

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 ?? (PA) ?? A major provider of mea l s to schoo l s is unab l e to supp l y sa l ad items for weeks
(PA) A major provider of mea l s to schoo l s is unab l e to supp l y sa l ad items for weeks
 ?? (PA) ?? Shoppers have faced bare she l ves and rationing
(PA) Shoppers have faced bare she l ves and rationing
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