The UK Faces Holidays Without Fresh Fruits and Vegetables

With trucks—sorry, lorries—backed up at the border, Lufthansa flies in to try to save the day.

Earlier this week, some of the United Kingdom's biggest supermarket chains warned that their shelves could be short of some fruits and vegetables during the holiday season. After a new and more transmissible strain of coronavirus was identified––prompting Prime Minister Boris Johnson to announce new lockdown measures for London and Southeast England––France banned cargo trucks from crossing the English Channel.

“If nothing changes, we will start to see gaps over the coming days on lettuce, some salad leaves, cauliflowers, broccoli and citrus fruit—all of which are imported from the continent at this time of year,” a spokesperson for Sainsbury's told The Guardian. "We hope the UK and French governments can come to a mutually agreeable solution that prioritizes the immediate passage of produce and any other food at the ports.”

UK truck border backup
William Edwards / Getty Images

The French and UK governments did reach an agreement to allow cargo drivers to travel between the two countries, but that is both contingent on giving each driver a COVID-19 test and will take a minute, considering that there are thousands of trucks stuck in a traffic jam, trying to get to the port of Dover and onto ferries into Calais.

On Wednesday, German airline Lufthansa flew 80 tons of fruit and vegetables into the UK, in an attempt to prevent after-Christmas shortages. The cargo plane was loaded with broccoli, cauliflower, citrus fruits, lettuce, and strawberries, and the airline is already debating whether it will make the Frankfurt to Doncaster Sheffield route a more-frequent thing. (In addition to coronavirus-related traffic snarls, the UK is also trying to negotiate a trade deal with the European Union before its Brexit "transition period" ends on December 31.)

"[Lufthansa is] examining whether additional special cargo flights can be offered during the next few days," an airline spokesperson told the BBC. “We are also checking if a regular flight might be possible.”

But the biggest problem––the thousands of trucks and cargo vans that are currently parked in Kent––is going to take several days to resolve, and even that generous cargo flight can't compensate for the amount of food that wasn't delivered this week. (The BBC reports that around 10,000 trucks normally travel between Dover and Calais every day during the Christmas period.)

“It is good news for consumers as the French borders have now reopened, however it is essential that lorries get moving across the border as quickly as possible," Andrew Opie, the director of food and sustainability at the British Retail Consortium, told The Guardian. "Until the backlog is cleared and supply chains return to normal, we anticipate issues with the availability of some fresh goods."

It sounds like there might be a few rather unconventional New Year's Eve menus this year––which is completely on-brand for 2020.

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