Putting a British chicken in every pot is proving to be a difficult endeavor in the United Kingdom. More and more consumers are trying to "Buy British," and retailers that were caught up in the imported horsemeat scandal, like the grocery giant Tesco, are making efforts to cut back on food from beyond the English Channel.
It’s a combination that, according to The Telegraph, is resulting in a dearth of British chicks.
Supply hasn’t been able to catch up with demand because of regulation, according to (unsurprisingly), a British Poultry Council spokesman. Andrew Large says the result is, “Those going to places like Tesco won't be able to do so. They will be forced to buy imported chicken.”
"Buy British,” he says, “has consequences.” Which is true, to an extent. The U.K.’s chicken conundrum is exactly the kind of market issue that globalization excels at solving. Country x wants more of item a, but can’t produce enough of it due to a lack of space, high-costs, lack of cheap labor, etc., so country y does the job instead. The problem being, of course, a host of real-world issues come along with that economically tidy supply-and-demand solution. From working conditions in Chinese Foxconn factories, deadly infrastructure in Bangladesh garment factories, to the very weird, convoluted story behind the horsemeat scandal, global supply chains are inherently messy and ethically suspect.
But Buy British has consequences. Or, buying local en masse when agriculture production and processing and distribution are geared toward a global trade has consequences.
In the U.K., shoppers between 18 and 24 are two times more likely to “Buy British” than they were in 2007, according to the Institute of Grocery and Distribution—a stat that’s quoted at the end of the Telegraph article. In the U.S., demand for local foods—a far more narrow area of production than “American,” it goes without saying, but the U.S. is gigantic—is “skyrocketing,” as Agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack has said on more than one occasion. Still, most consumers buy food that, if not imported from abroad, is “imported” from say California, for example. In a 2010 report, the USDA said the biggest hurdle to local food systems “lack of distribution systems for moving local foods into mainstream markets.”
While the argument about regulation seems circumspect (what trade group doesn’t cry bureaucracy! when its industry is slipping on supply?), it is reasonable to ask if the U.K. is capable of feeding itself—and not just chickens for a certain set of society, but across the board. And that’s a query the land-use magazine The Land tackled in 2007. The answer? “Britain could indeed feed a population of 60.6 million people with varying degrees of flexibility—but only if we ate less meat.”