The Executive is not doing enough to prepare for possible food shortages resulting from factors like supply chain challenges and the NI Protocol, an MLA has said.
Independent East Londonderry representative Claire Sugden said that while shortages of some food and other goods were not inevitable, the Executive should nonetheless be making contingency plans in case they did happen.
She said there were risks to food supplies from problems with global supply chains, issues around Brexit and the Northern Ireland Protocol, and a shortage of HGV drivers.
In September last year, a shortage of HGV drivers to carry out deliveries resulted in gaps in shelves at supermarket giant Tesco in Northern Ireland.
And in September, Sainsbury’s also said there was varying availability for a number of products. However, there have not been noticeable shortages since then.
Ms Sugden said she asked Economy Minister Gordon Lyons for his assessment of the risk of shortages in September but had waited four months for the response.
In his response to the Assembly question on January 19, Mr Lyons said: “It is difficult to say with any degree of certainty whether or not there will be shortages of certain goods in the future.
"Certainly NI businesses have demonstrated their resilience and adaptability over recent times to ensure shelves remain stocked.
"In addition, the situation on food is something that is closely monitored by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) and the current position remains relatively stable.
“However, there are a number of factors at play, including the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic; global shipping costs and availability of shipping containers; HGV driver shortages; the new GB arrangements following EU exit; and the impact of the Northern Ireland protocol on bringing goods from other parts of the UK into Northern Ireland.
"Collectively, we will do all we can to support businesses as they grapple with the global challenges they face."
The MLA said she had been warning that food supplies could come under pressure again.
“While this is far from certain, it is vital to have a plan in place rather than to react to shortages as they appear – by then it will be too late.
“We have seen the impact of the pandemic on global supply chains, issues around Brexit and the Protocol, a shortage of HGV drivers and other key workers, and rising global costs.
"These have existed for many months now – they are not new or surprising factors, and they have not gone away."
She said contingency plans should have been made during the four months it had taken to answer her questions.
“Instead, as opposed to setting out the measures that had, or would be, put in place, his response was that the Executive ‘will do all we can to support businesses as they grapple with the global challenges’.
“He acknowledges there is a risk, but the ‘plan’ seems to be to wait and see what happens. Obviously this is no plan at all.”
She said that while some issues were matters for Westminster, “the Executive needs to use its influence to try to tackle these issues where they arise”.
“But the various departments also need to do everything they can within their own remit to ensure any negative impacts for people here are mitigated.
“It seems that in this case – as in many others – this is not being done.”