Why are British vegetable shelves empty and ours not?

Empty vegetable trays at an Asda supermarket in East London.Image by AP

Empty vegetable shelves, maximum peppers per customer: The United Kingdom is struggling with a major shortage of fresh vegetables. Large supermarket chains have imposed restrictions on the number of tomatoes and cucumbers customers can buy as vegetable shelves are empty in many stores.

This is fueling anger among Britons. and comedy. When European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen visited the UK this week, she asked, ‘Can you bring some tomatoes?’

Stuffed vegetable cabinet in Kherson

A journalist from the British news channel Channel 4 also shared a photo of a vegetable cabinet full. Location: A supermarket in the Ukrainian city of Kherson, which has been subject to frequent Russian bombings. They have tomatoes there too, reporter Lindsay Hilsom liked to emphasize.

These jokes also touch on an important point. After all, why isn’t there a similar vegetable shortage elsewhere in Europe? Is the British exit from the EU perhaps the reason for the absence of tomatoes and cucumbers?

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Bad weather

The British government vehemently denies that Brexit caused the vegetable shortage. According to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s cabinet, the shortage is due to recent bad weather in Europe’s biggest vegetable suppliers, Spain and Morocco.

For the same reason, the prices of tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, eggplant, cauliflower and spinach in the Netherlands recently went through the roof. As it was very cold in the south of Europe, these vegetables grew very little. In addition, greenhouses in the Netherlands are empty due to high energy prices. But there are no empty shelves here.

Weather, energy prices and imports

Experts point to the weather, energy prices and import dependence as the main reasons for the UK’s deficit, which is expected to last another month. The weather in Spain is now good again, but that does not mean that the harvest will start immediately.

At the same time, according to economist Timothy Harford, Brexit “hasn’t changed the situation for the better.” “Brexit makes almost every problem a little worse” he tells American broadcaster NPR. Michael Winter, professor of agricultural change at the University of Exeter, says Brexit has “undoubtedly” worsened the situation.

Bureaucratic red tape

He points to the extra bureaucratic red tape that suppliers have faced since Brexit. “If the transaction costs of exporting to one country are high relative to another, the choice is easy” He tells Andhra News Agency. “Why do extra paperwork to export to the UK when the supply is short?”

However, other experts believe the impact of Brexit – at least on the current vegetable shortage – is minimal. There are shortages in the UK, but not in the Netherlands, for example, which may have more to do with geographic location.

Crossing the Channel

“It is cheaper for a supplier to deliver to the Netherlands and other countries in Europe because of the extra costs involved in crossing the Channel.” says FruitNet’s Chris White Euronews.

According to Richard Diplock, director of Green House Growers in the south of England, that plays a role: British supermarkets are more reluctant than Europeans to buy more and charge customers more.

“In England, you know, a cucumber costs 75 pence every week, regardless of the time of year,” DiBlock told the AP. “North African and Spanish farmers are now getting better returns by selling to European supermarkets.”

null Image courtesy of Reuters

Image courtesy of Reuters

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