Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Shortages in the UK Are Over-Stated But Travel Woes Are Not


Buy English daffodils, not Thai orchids

Day 5 of no airplanes in the sky and it is quiet. London's airports are so busy that one never realizes that the muffled sound of engines is usually always in the air. Stories abound: wedding guests never arriving, house guests never leaving, musicians stranded, holidays missed.

And in the media: fear mongering about fresh fruit and vegetable and flower shortages in the UK due to the shut down of air travel because of volcanic ash. It is true apparently that Tesco has sold out of Thai orchids, and pineapples may be scarce, but there is still lots to eat. However, it's a fascinating examination of how food travels to an island and how the cloud of volcanic ash is affecting British life and economic activity.


Image from the Guardian: A Flotlla "rescue" from Calais

Exotic fruits such as pineapple, asparagus, grapes, green onions, lettuce and pre-packed fruit salads are shipped by air freight. Kenyan flowers and Thai orchids are too. So shortages of these not-completely-necessary foods are expected. An interesting new fact about prepared fruit salads is that most of the fruit is pre-sliced in Africa. With skin and pits removed, it is lighter for shipping. Waitrose has said that the supply of "a handful" of products had been hit, including fresh pineapple chunks from Ghana and baby sweetcorn from Thailand. However green beans, snow peas and sugar snap peas are the main vegetables sent from Kenya each day and they are now rotting in warehouses or being dumped because they can't be shipped to Europe.

In fact less than 2% of the UK's food is shipped by air. Even though the UK imports about 90% of its fruit and 60% of its vegetables, the vast majority come by sea. For example, FairTrade bananas from the West Indies arrive regularly at English ports such as Southampton and Portsmouth.


Image from BBC

Spare a thought for the Kenyan flower industry. Flower exporters in Kenya say they are losing up to $1.5M a day. This weekend 400 tons of rotting flowers originally destined for Europe were destroyed. Europe is its largest market with 97% of all Kenya's flowers being sent there, and a quarter of those bound for the UK. About 300 growers employ an estimated 100,000 people, with about 1.2m people deriving their livelihood from the flower export industry. If the planes don't start flying soon thousands of staff will be laid off.

It is thought that there are 200,000 British stranded abroad, with 30,000 marooned in the Canary Islands alone. Trains and ferry boats are the only way to get back to the UK now. All Eurostar's trains were fully booked, with more than 46,000 passengers travelling this past weekend. They are the lucky ones. The government is now talking about sending out the Royal Navy to collect people from Spain. One t.v. personality tried to organize a flotilla of rescue boats from Calais, but was thwarted by French port authorities.

This is the end of the two week Easter school break. Many students will be absent and there are fears of lack of teachers tomorrow when school re-opens.

Courier companies such as FedEx and DHL have had to shut down their services, disrupting logistic chains across industry. Anyone who ordered an an iPad from the U.S. in order to avoid Apple's embargo on international sales will be out of luck too.

Tags: Trains | Transportation

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