Talking Point
Food and retail: Varies

The food sector is regarded as part of the UK's infrastructure, even though it is entirely in the hands of private enterprise.

There are thousands of companies involved and supply chains are long and varied, often depending on overseas sources. However, if one food item becomes short in supply because of the bug, then there are nearly always substitutes.

Other retail areas are not being investigated officially and it is up to each company to do what it needs to avoid problems. This makes information very difficult to come by.

Food 'should not be a problem'

The country's most important food retailers are, however, reported to be 100% Blue in the October Action 2000 assessment, which was carried out by PA Consulting.

PAs assessment, which covered the supply of all the most regularly purchased products to consumers throughout the UK, indicated that there was no risk of material disruption to any of the elements of the supply chain - retail, manufacturing, packaging or logistics.

The assessment also pointed out that extra stocks were being set up in the supply chain and that supermarkets' policy of stocking many varieties of a single product meant that consumers were unlikely to experience severe problems.

To hoard or not to hoard?

As well as the actual selling of food, there is the issue of people storing extra supplies 'just in case'. Some organisations, such as Y2K Community Action Network, have recommended storing three weeks' worth of food and water. If everyone did this, however, there would be the sort of shortages the hoarders wish to avoid.

Hoarding could also lead to increased cases of food poisoning as a result of incorrect storage and inadequate hygiene.

City and county councils are laying in stocks of food, as well as medical equipment, heating and lighting, though this is aimed more at dealing with problems in institutions such as homes for the elderly or hospitals.

The Action 2000 traffic light codes:

Blue: The assessment has not identified any risks of material disruption to the infrastructure process.

Amber: The assessment indicates that there is some risk of material disruption to infrastructure processes, but that there is an agreed containment plan to rectify shortcomings.

Red: The assessment indicates that there is a severe risk of material disruption to infrastructure processes and that timely rectification might not be possible.

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