Minister ‘surprised’ at Bank of England’s ‘apocalyptic’ food shortage comments

Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis (PA Wire)
Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis (PA Wire)

A Cabinet minister has rebuffed Bank of England Governor Andrew Bailey after he sounded an “apocalyptic” warning over looming food shortages caused by Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis said on Tuesday he was “surprised to see that kind of terminology”, insisting supermarkets had already bought food supplies in advance.

Mr Lewis told Sky News: “Yes, I was surprised to see that kind of terminology there, particularly in light of the fact that obviously food supplies are for supermarkets.

“Food supplies are already bought a long way in advance so supermarkets are placing orders for many, many months down the line...and they’re working on today’s prices and what they’re buying for today is what we will be seeing in supermarkets in the period ahead.”

Appearing before the Commons Treasury Committee on Monday, Mr Bailey said food shortages caused by the conflict in Ukraine were a big concern.

“I’m afraid the one I’m going to sound I guess apocalyptic about is food,” he told MPs.

The Bank’s Governor added that after speaking with the Ukrainian finance minister at an International Monetary Fund meeting in Washington, future supplies of many staple foods were in doubt.

He said: “Two things the Ukrainian finance minister said, one is Ukraine does have food in store but it cannot get it out at the moment.

“Two, Ukraine is a major supplier of wheat, a major supplier of cooking oil, he was pretty optimistic about planting interestingly, but he said at the moment we have no way of shipping it out as things stand.

“That is a major worry and it is not just a major worry for this country, it is a major worry for the developing world as well. Sorry for being apocalyptic but that is a major concern.”

His comments came just days after a UN food chief warned that millions of people will die around the world if Mr Putin does not lift his blocking of Ukraine’s ports.

David Beasley, head of the United Nations World Food Programme, pleaded with the Russian president to end the blockade of Black Sea ports.

“Millions of people around the world will die because these ports are being blocked,” he warned.

He emphasised that the historic port of Odesa, which has come under heavy Russian bombardment, and other ports needed to be operational within the next two months to avoid catastrophe for Ukraine’s economy which is heavily focused on agriculture, recently accounting for just over 40 per cent of its exports.

Ukraine is among the top five global exporters for several vital agricultural products, including corn, wheat and barley, according to the US government, as well as being the top exporter of both sunflower oil and meal.

With energy prices already soaring, shortages of food could push up prices adding to the growing cost of living crisis.

Mr Lewis insisted the Government was taking actrion to support struggling households.

He said: “We are very, very conscious of the challenges that people are facing, both in the energy prices that we’re seeing when people are ...whether it’s filling up their car or filling up that they’re oil tank for their oil at home and that’s why that package of support is there and we will continue to do what we can while dealing with this global challenge.”