The UK's supply of fruit and vegetables has become increasingly reliant on imports from countries vulnerable to climate change, a study led by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) has found.


The research involved analysing open-source data on food trade from 1987-2013. The team estimated that the domestic contribution to total fruit and vegetable supply in the UK decreased from 42 per cent in 1987 to 22 per cent in 2013, while at the same time imports of fruit and vegetables from countries vulnerable to climate change have increased from 20 per cent in 1987 to 32 per cent in 2013.

They also found that the variety of fruits and vegetables imported into the UK has increased, with major shifts towards more exotic produce.

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“The UK's current trade patterns and climate change means the supply of fruit and vegetables in the UK is not secure. The recognition that trade is a key component of food system resilience is therefore vital information for policymakers,” said lead researcher Dr Pauline Scheelbeek from LSHTM's Centre on Climate Change & Planetary Health.

“The increased reliance on fruit and vegetable imports from climate-vulnerable countries will, if no adequate climate change adaptation measures are taken in the production countries, lead to fruit and vegetable supply problems in the UK and potentially affect price and consumption of such foods. This could be a major challenge in our efforts to promote higher fruit and vegetable consumption in the UK, both for health and environmental reasons,” she added.


Despite fruit and vegetables being key components of healthy diets just 30 per cent of adults and 18 per cent of children in England eat the recommended five portions per day. Any increases in price could particularly affect those in low-income households, the researchers say.

Reader Q&A: Why do children dislike vegetables?

Asked by: Jake Bogdan, Switzerland

Our evolutionary ancestors lived with lots of toxic plants and we evolved a gene that makes the toxins in these plants taste bitter to discourage us from eating them. Children probably evolved a stronger aversion to bitter tastes because they haven’t yet learned which plants are dangerous. We learn which plants are safe and lose half of our taste receptors by the time we are 20, making vegetables taste less bitter.

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Jason Goodyer
Jason GoodyerCommissioning editor, BBC Science Focus

Jason is the commissioning editor for BBC Science Focus. He holds an MSc in physics and was named Section Editor of the Year by the British Society of Magazine Editors in 2019. He has been reporting on science and technology for more than a decade. During this time, he's walked the tunnels of the Large Hadron Collider, watched Stephen Hawking deliver his Reith Lecture on Black Holes and reported on everything from simulation universes to dancing cockatoos. He looks after the magazine’s and website’s news sections and makes regular appearances on the Instant Genius Podcast.