Scotland could be facing dangerously low supplies of food in the face of a climate emergency, while GPs should be prepped to give out guidance on tropical diseases including zika and malaria, experts have warned.

The impact of soaring temperatures and changing weather conditions on native food crops in the UK could present uncharted problems for the NHS, including the spread of new diseases and heat stress if the government fails to act swiftly.

A report by the Environmental Audit Committee warned that the NHS is not prepared for the rise in health problems as a result of climate breakdown. The report calls on the Government to promote more sustainable diets which benefit both the environment and people’s health, including a reduction in meat and dairy consumption.

Planning authorities should be able to restrict the number of fast-food outlets without stringent evidence requirements to help people in cities access healthy food choices more easily.

Climate breakdown is expected to have major impacts on global food systems, affecting the UK’s ability to deliver healthy and sustainable diets. 

Projections include agriculture hit by extreme weather and the spread of livestock diseases that could decimate supplies.

The UK imports around 40 per cent of its fresh fruit and vegetables, including some from countries which are highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

A dependency on imports, combined with Government “complacency” over the impacts rising temperatures could have on food production, is risking national food security – compounded by Brexit trade uncertainty, the report found.
Committee chairwoman, Labour’s Mary Creagh, warned the country faced a “food security crisis” and called on ministers to publish all the information they held on food security and costs in the event of a no-deal Brexit. The MPs raised concerns over the impact food price increases could have on the UK’s poorest people, particularly pensioners and children, and urged the Government to set out how it plans to maintain food security in a changing climate.

Producing more food in the UK could cut the risks associated with depending on imports from a handful of countries, and the MPs said a new national food strategy should support sustainable production of more fruit and veg here.

The Agriculture Bill, which will govern agriculture after the UK quits the EU, should encourage a switch towards more sustainably produced food.
The report also raised concerns the NHS and the pharmaceutical industry did not have enough resources to cope with the environmental changes.

Public health bodies should broaden their focus to include guidance to GPs and the pharmaceutical industry on Lyme disease, malaria, Zika and other emerging tropical diseases and advise local government on the impacts of heat stress and protecting vulnerable people, particularly the elderly.

Ms Creagh said: “Everything we do to the planet, we do to ourselves. The health of the planet matters because it affects what we eat and whether we can eat in future. We are facing a food security crisis, exacerbated by uncertainty over the UK’s future trading position with the EU and the rest of the world.

"Ministers must now publish all the information they hold from Operation Yellowhammer on food security and likely costs in the event of a no-deal Brexit.”

And she warned: “More people are living in cities at risk from over-heating and water shortages, they’re breathing polluted air, eating more fast-food and getting less exercise.”

She called for “a planetary health champion” to put the agenda of people’s and environmental health at the heart of government.