Britain could run out of food if it cannot maintain the flow of goods after Brexit, that country's National Farmers' Union has said. After it emerged that Teresa May's government was drawing up plans to stockpile food in the event of a no-deal Brexit, the British Retail Consortium and drug manufacturers issued more warnings about possible supply shortages.
Of those already stockpiling food, the most popular items include staples such as flour, olive oil, dried pasta, rice, powdered milk, coffee and tinned items such as tomatoes and sardines. Other “luxuries” such as chocolate, and over-the-counter medicines such as painkillers and antihistamines feature too.
Here are some of the reasons for stockpiling and views on the practicalities of putting together an “insurance policy” in the larder.
‘The probability is tiny but the consequences are truly terrible’
I am trying to do my best to avoid political rhetoric and look only at facts. While I still have faith that the people behind the politicians, the civil servants, industry leaders, lawyers and indeed the administrators of the EU are working hard to prevent a no-deal Brexit, the facts around reverting to WTO regulations leave me concluding that April 2019 could be a very sensible time to be self-sufficient, so I’m already stockpiling.
My first purchase was an additional shelving rack for the garage and several plastic storage crates, to ensure the “Brexit supplies” are kept separately to everyday food. Each time I go to a supermarket, 2-3 times a week, I am doubling up on all non-perishable or long-date items and throwing a few extras into the trolley. So far I’ve bought mainly tinned goods: soup, different types of beans, tuna and sardines, chopped tomatoes. Also, jars of olives, capers and lots of dried pasta. I plan to spend around £100 a month until we know more about what might happen in March. The chest freezer will be filled with meat, but at the moment I’m looking to ensure we have the absolute basics rather than luxuries. I have also bought flour, yeast etc and will endeavour to learn to bake bread. I have bought ibuprofen, toothpaste and toilet paper as part of doubling up on non-perishable goods. In the event that food supplies are not affected, I will donate any stockpiled items to food banks. So far, my one “luxury” touch is three-packs of Boost chocolate bars at £1 each and with long dates.
I am very worried about a no-deal Brexit, while also acknowledging that the chances of this are remote, despite what [Britain's international trade secretary] Liam Fox may publicly utter . I liken it to the tech billionaires who have bought up land in remote parts of New Zealand in case of global nuclear war: the probability is tiny, but the consequences are truly terrible, so it is worth a proportionately small investment in insulating oneself. Adam Roberts, 35, Leeds
‘What exactly is the government going to stockpile, and where?’
There are too many people who seem to have forgotten about (or are too young to remember) the late 1970s and early 80s – 3 million unemployed, serious economic dislocation, and riots stemming from deprivation mixed with a simmering frustration and fury at an out-of-touch government.
We also seem to have enough idiots at the helm who are quite willing to drive this country off an economic cliff-edge, knowing that they personally have good financial cushions to land on and who really aren't bothered about the "collateral damage" they'll inflict on others. Plus I don't think they really understand the practicalities of how goods, including food, are distributed and/or stored these days. I mean, what exactly is the government going to stockpile and where? I don't believe this country has the capacity to stockpile any serious food supplies. David Bates, 54, Bermondsey
‘Who’s going to feed us if Brexit does all go pear-shaped? It’s an insurance policy of sorts’
Since the day of the advisory referendum I’ve been more keenly aware of the need to prepare, but what really kickstarted it was headlines about the government starting to stockpile. It comes down to a simple question: do I trust the government to take care of my family in the event of a crisis, or do we need to take responsibility ourselves? The way I see it, we still have a little time to get a head start on things.
Even if nothing happens from Brexit, it’s handy to have a month or two’s supply of tinned food in the house in case we get snow like last year, or you’re ill or lose your job. There are plenty of situations where it’ll come in handy. The key is to only store what you enjoy eating, and actually use the stockpile, don’t just shove it in the shed and forget about it. I’ve got cartons of passata, tinned tuna, carrots, potatoes, onions, pulses, water chestnuts, plum tomatoes, curry paste jars, coconut milk, tomato puree, rice, pasta, water, orange juice, squash, spaghetti hoops, soups, stews, tinned fruit, herbs and spices. I’ve also got a good amount of DIY tools, buckets, lightbulbs, matches, candles, firewood, bleach, Dettol, first-aid items and common medicines.
It's an insurance policy of sorts. I recognise that I'm in a fairly privileged position to be able to do this: not everyone can afford a few hundred quid on unnecessary tins. But I have to look after my family, and I would encourage everyone else to do the same if they can. If you don't end up needing it, you can eat it or donate to a food bank, because God knows they'll need it. If you do need it, you'll be glad of it. Thomas, Shrewsbury
‘If I have to, I’ll dig up my garden and grow my own fresh veg’
So far Brexit proceedings have been disastrous, in my opinion, and I fear we have not yet seen the worst of it. Food shortages will only be one of many trials ahead of us and I have already started to stockpile tinned food. I normally don’t use much, but any port in a storm.
I've got tinned veg, fruit, pulses, corned beef, spam, sardines, salmon – things I could put a reasonably balanced meal together with. Cordon bleu it won't be! Healthy? Not overflowing with vitamins, but not bad. I'm too young to remember rationing, but living in the north-east of England in the 50s was not a land of milk and honey – people bought bacon by the slice and butter by the ounce from the dearly beloved Co-operative Stores, which sold food loose from sacks and barrels. People nowadays couldn't cope with that. If I have to, I'll dig up my garden and grow my own fresh veg. Fresh fruit is what I would miss most of all, and you can't stockpile that. Anne Neale, 62, Cullercoats
‘I am planning to buy a two to three month supply of staples’
I am making the assumption that most locally produced goods will be fine but anything that comes from further afield will not. So I am planning to buy a two- to three-month supply of staples – pasta, rice, flour, pulses. I assume that British milk will be just fine, but will probably buy some powdered milk and UHT just in case. I will buy additional supplies of canned fruit and tomatoes, tea and coffee.
I have been thinking about buying a small chest freezer and running a cable down our small back garden to the shed so we can stock up on frozen veg – broccoli, green beans, spinach – as well as frozen berries, orange juice and fish (guessing Cornish mackerel and Scottish will not be affected, unless all the fishermen decide to move to Spain). We buy our veg from an organic veg co-op, so fingers crossed they will carry on with their UK box. Lettuce is not freezable, so l will grow my own! Victoria Whitford, London
‘I have a son to support and can’t afford to be caught up in panic buying’
This is less theoretical for me than for some – I have started stockpiling, just a couple of items every week. Although I of course hope the nonsense in parliament will resolve itself, and better yet Brexit will be stopped altogether, I have a young son to support and can’t afford to be caught up in the panic buying that will undoubtedly occur when a no-deal is near.
So far I am buying tinned food including beans and tomatoes, rice and pasta, tinned fish and bottled water. I will also buy tinned meat. I hasten to add I'm not a "prepper", I've never done this before in my life and never saw myself needing to do so. But my family is too important to me for me to take such a risk. I only wish the politicians would think in the same way. Ed, 33, Gloucestershire
‘I’m not panicking about Brexit but I am taking it seriously’
We’ve been considering stockpiling for a while as part of wider concerns about food supply chain disruption and as part of a drive to ensure that we lower our household waste, making us more resilient as a household. Brexit emerged as a final prompt as it appears to be a credible trigger, at least for short-term supply issues.
I am most worried about Brexit disruption in the initial period, assuming a no-deal (food and medicine primarily), but longer-term I worry about the diminishing opportunities for my children in this country and an erosion of the standards and (some admittedly imperfect) safeguards on food, manufacturing, workers’ rights and environmental standards.
I also worry about the effect Brexit is having on our culture – it feels as though the toxicity it has unleashed and the resurgence of the far right is far from played out. I don't think stockpiling will in any way protect us from those longer-term and chronic issues. It provides a bit of a comfort blanket, but no real aid. I'm not panicking about Brexit but I am taking it seriously. Laura, Gloucestershire
– Guardian Service