Britain has the worst supply of fruit and vegetables in the EU, a new report claims, putting the UK on a par with Lithuania when it comes to the availability of fresh produce.
The findings – which also demonstrate that British fruit and vegetables are among the most expensive in Europe – point to the failure of a series of government initiatives to increase our consumption of fruit and vegetables.
The report, by Eurostat, compared the availability of a selection of fruit and vegetables in all the EU countries, and looked separately at pricing and production across the nations.
Some in the industry believe the UK's supply of fresh fruit and vegetables is poorer than that of our European counterparts because our consumption is lower – shops will only stock what they can sell.
"I can't believe that there is such a problem with availability, given the number of retailers in the UK," said Philip Hudson, chief horticultural adviser to the National Farmers' Union.
"There are a range of issues here – consumer habit, price and availability. The Government has been working to tackle the consumption issue, by placing more emphasis on the importance of getting five pieces of fruit and veg a day," he said.
The British Retail Consortium disputed the findings: "There is no problem with access to fresh food in this country. Customers can see for themselves that in any UK supermarket there is a full range of fruit and vegetables at all prices," said a BRC spokesperson.
"Food retailers promote and discount fresh fruit and vegetables extensively, giving people access to healthy, affordable food," he said.
The report was commissioned in response to a European Commission White Paper on nutrition. Recent figures from the Food Standards Agency revealed that, while 79 percent of people know they should be eating five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, only 32 per cent of British women and 28 per cent of men do so.
The high cost of fruit and vegetables in the UK might be putting people off. British produce – both imported and home-grown – was found to be among the priciest in Europe, with France, Spain, Italy and Germany all enjoying cheaper prices.
The report comes at a time when many UK con-sumers are supporting British growers, with the result that many areas of the industry are flourishing.
"Three years ago, the demand for English apples and pears massively increased. It was a change in consumer attitudes that was then reflected by supermarkets," said Adrian Barlow, chief executive of English Apples and Pears.