After enduring shortages, Britain to review horticulture and egg supply

People shop at a grocery market, in London

LONDON (Reuters) -Britain, grappling with a cost-of-living crisis and food inflation not seen for almost 50 years, will review its horticulture and egg supply chains after shoppers faced shortages, the government said on Tuesday.

Earlier this year, Britons struggled to get hold of tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers after disrupted harvests in north Africa and Spain reduced supply.

Compounding matters, UK production of salad ingredients is expected to hit a record low this year as costly energy has deterred British producers from planting crops in greenhouses.

Supermarkets were also forced to ration egg sales late last year, and availability remains patchy as some farmers have exited the industry saying they can't make a profit.

The tight conditions have helped to push British food price inflation to levels not seen since 1977, putting pressure on Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, whose Conservative Party suffered steep losses in recent local elections, to find solutions for both consumers and producers.

"The government will protect the interests of farmers by making sure they get a fair price for their produce," Therese Coffey, minister for the environment, food and rural affairs, said in a statement on Tuesday.

She said the government was already using new legislation to improve transparency and contracts in Britain's pork and dairy markets.

"We are now announcing additional reviews into the horticulture and egg supply chains, in light of the impact of global challenges on these sectors in particular," she said.

Coffey also said 45,000 visas for seasonal farm workers would again be offered in 2024, with potential for a further 10,000 should demand be proven.

Earlier, Sunak hosted a food summit, bringing together farmers, suppliers, retailers and industry bodies to boost growth, innovation and sustainability in the sector.

Food retailers have said they expect prices to rise in 2023 overall but with the rate of inflation declining through the year.

Prices for some products that had seen the sharpest rises, such as milk, butter, bread, pasta, vegetable and sunflower oil have actually started to fall.

"We do want to ensure that retailers are passing on any savings they find. We recognise that they themselves are finding it a challenging period, given the global inflation pressures we're seeing," Sunak's spokesperson said.

(Reporting by James Davey, aditional reporting by Alistair Smout; editing by William James, Alexandra Hudson)