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Food shortages: Fruit and veg industry 'hurt horribly by Brexit', ex-supermarket chief warns

Shoppers are facing limits on the amount of fresh produce they can purchase.

Empty fruit and vegetable shelves at an Asda in east London. A shortage of tomatoes affecting UK supermarkets is widening to other fruit and vegetables and is likely to last weeks, retailers have warned. A combination of bad weather and transport problems in Africa and Europe has seen UK supermarket shelves left bare of tomatoes, as well as dwindling stocks of some other fresh produce. Picture date: Tuesday February 21, 2023. (Photo by Yui Mok/PA Images via Getty Images)
Supermarkets are experiencing shortages of some fresh produce. (Getty)

A supermarket boss has warned Brexit is contributing to shortages of fruit and vegetables in the UK after the sector was “hurt horribly" by the decision to leave the EU.

Shoppers are facing limits on the amount of fresh produce they can purchase as supply issues leave supermarket shelves bare.

The major supermarkets have blamed "difficult weather conditions" in Spain and Morocco for the problems following heavy rainfall, thunderstorms and snow storms.

But former Sainsbury's CEO Justin King told LBC that Brexit was partly to blame as UK greenhouses producing peppers, cucumbers and tomatoes had been negatively impacted by it.

Read more: Supermarket food rationing: The stores that are currently affected

Justin King, CEO of British supermarket chain Sainsbury's, is pictured as he arrives for the company's Annual General Meeting (AGM) in central London on July 9, 2014. King is expected to step down as CEO later Wednesday after 10 years at the helm. AFP PHOTO / CARL COURT (Photo by CARL COURT / AFP) (Photo by CARL COURT/AFP via Getty Images)
Former Sainsbury's CEO Justin King has warned Brexit is contributing to shortages. (Getty)

Tesco, Aldi, Asda and Morrisons have introduced rations on certain items, including tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers, as a way of maintaining their stock during the supply issues which could last weeks.

King said: "North Kent, in Thanet, [had] the largest greenhouses in Europe, which used to be full of peppers, cucumbers and tomatoes.

"But those greenhouses have suffered, really, from two big things. I hate to say it, Nick, but it's a sector that's been hurt horribly by Brexit."

Anti-Brexit campaign group Save British Farming also blamed supply issues on the UK’s decision to leave the EU, adding: “The reason we have #foodshortages in Britain is because of this @Conservatives govt and their #Brexit and it’s not because of Spanish weather!”

Watch: Rationing risk as tomato shortage hits UK supermarkets

King added the government’s decision to exclude supermarkets from the energy support scheme as well as the bad weather in Spain and Morocco were also to blame.

The UK has relied more on products grown in Morocco following Brexit, so the country is vulnerable to any issues in this region.

Production problems in Morocco began in January with unusually cold night-time temperatures that affected tomato ripening.

These were compounded by ferry cancellations due to bad weather, hitting lorry deliveries.

Read more: Supermarket rationing could last for weeks, retail experts warn

Empty fruit and vegetable shelves at an Asda in east London with a Max 3 units sign. A shortage of tomatoes affecting UK supermarkets is widening to other fruit and vegetables and is likely to last weeks, retailers have warned. A combination of bad weather and transport problems in Africa and Europe has seen UK supermarket shelves left bare of tomatoes, as well as dwindling stocks of some other fresh produce. Picture date: Tuesday February 21, 2023. (Photo by Yui Mok/PA Images via Getty Images)
Empty fruit and vegetable shelves at an Asda in east London with a Max 3 units sign. (Getty)

Rising energy costs have also been cited as a reason for the fresh food shortages.

According to reports, tomato growers in the UK are struggling to heat their greenhouses due to lack of money.

On Wednesday, environment secretary Therese Coffey told farmers “we can’t control the weather in Spain” when confronted with the news that supermarkets were limiting sales of fruit and vegetables.

In her speech to delegates at the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) conference in Birmingham, Coffey stressed the need for biosecurity but left the conference hall before discussing the supermarket supply issues.

It is understood that retailers believe the problems stem from poor yields on the continent and North Africa, and that supplies will improve in the coming days or weeks.