Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

United Kingdom’s fruit and vegetable supply is increasingly dependent on imports from climate-vulnerable producing countries


The contribution of domestic production to total fruit and vegetable supply in the UK decreased from 42% in 1987 to 22% in 2013. The impact of this changing pattern of UK fruit and vegetable imports from countries with different vulnerabilities to projected climate change on the resilience of the UK food system is currently unknown. Here, we used the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) bilateral trade database over a period of 27 years to estimate changes in fruit and vegetable supply in the UK and the Notre Dame Global Adaptation Initiative (ND-GAIN) climate vulnerability categories to assess the climate vulnerability of countries supplying fruit and vegetables to the UK. The diversity of fruit and vegetable supply has increased. In 1987, 21 crops constituted the top 80% of all fruit and vegetables supplied to the UK; in 2013, it was 34 crops. The contribution of tropical fruits has rapidly increased while that of more traditional vegetables, such as cabbages and carrots, has declined. The proportion of fruit and vegetables supplied to the UK market from climate-vulnerable countries increased from 20% in 1987 to 32% in 2013. Sensitivity analyses using climatic and freshwater availability indicators supported these findings. Increased reliance on fruit and vegetable imports from climate-vulnerable countries could negatively affect the availability, price and consumption of fruit and vegetables in the UK, affecting dietary intake and health, particularly of older people and low-income households. Inter-sectoral actions across agriculture, health, environment and trade are critical in both the UK and countries that export to the UK to increase the resilience of the food system and support population health.

Access options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.

Fig. 1: Change in supply of fruit and vegetables in the UK 1987–2013.
Fig. 2: Share of supply and ND-GAIN country score category for countries producing at least 1% of UK fruit and vegetable supply in 1987 and 2013.
Fig. 3: ND-GAIN vulnerability index of country of origin and 2013 share of major fruit and vegetable families consumed in the UK.
Fig. 4: Environmental characteristics of production areas.
Fig. 5: Consumption of berries and citrus fruits as a proportion of total fruit and vegetable consumption by age group.

Data availability

Data generated in this study will be made available upon reasonable request through LSHTM Data Compass (

Code availability

Code and algorithms generated in this study will be made available upon reasonable request from the corresponding author.


  1. 1.

    Health Survey for England 2017 (National Health Service, 2018).

  2. 2.

    National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS RP): Results for Years 5 to 9 (combined) of the Rolling Programme for Northern Ireland (2012/13–2016/17) and Time Trend and Income Analysis (Years 1 to 9; 2008/09–2016/17) (Food Standards Agency in Northern Ireland and Public Health England, 2019).

  3. 3.

    National Diet and Nutrition Survey Rolling Programme (NDNS RP). Results from Years 2–5 (combined) for Wales (2009/10–2012/13) (Food Standards Agency in Wales, Welsh Government and Public Health England, 2017).

  4. 4.

    National Diet and Nutrition Survey Rolling Programme (NDNS RP). Results from Years 1–4 (combined) for Scotland (2008/09–2011/12) (Food Standards Agency in Scotland and Public Health England, 2017).

  5. 5.

    GBD Compare (Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), 2019);

  6. 6.

    Wang, P. Y., Fang, J. C., Gao, Z. H., Zhang, C. & Xie, S. Y. Higher intake of fruits, vegetables or their fiber reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes: a meta‐analysis. J. Diabetes Investig. 7, 56–69 (2016).

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  7. 7.

    Alissa, E. M. & Ferns, G. A. Dietary fruits and vegetables and cardiovascular diseases risk. Crit. Rev. Food Sci. Nutr. 57, 1950–1962 (2017).

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  8. 8.

    Aune, D. et al. Fruit and vegetable intake and the risk of cardiovascular disease, total cancer and all-cause mortality—a systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective studies. Int. J. Epidemiol. 46, 1029–1056 (2017).

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  9. 9.

    National Diet and Nutrition Survey. Results from Years 7 and 8 (combined) of the Rolling Programme (2014/2015 to 2015/2016) (Public Health England, 2018).

  10. 10.

    Dietary Guidelines for the Brazilian Population - 2nd Edition (Ministry of Health of Brazil, 2014).

  11. 11.

    Wang, S.-s, Lay, S., Yu, H.-n & Shen, S.-r Dietary guidelines for Chinese residents (2016): comments and comparisons. J. Zhejiang Univ. Sci. B 17, 649–656 (2016).

    CAS  Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  12. 12.

    Willett, W. et al. Food in the Anthropocene: the EAT–Lancet Commission on healthy diets from sustainable food systems. Lancet 393, 447–492 (2019).

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  13. 13.

    The Eatwell Guide. Helping You Eat a Healthy, Balanced Diet (Public Health England, 2016).

  14. 14.

    Statistical Data Set: Agriculture in the United Kingdom 2018 (Department for Environment FRA-UG, 2019).

  15. 15.

    Wiggins, S. et al. The Rising Cost of a Healthy Diet: Changing Relative Prices of Foods in High-Income and Emerging Economies (Overseas Development Institute, 2015).

  16. 16.

    Lobell, D. B., Schlenker, W. & Costa-Roberts, J. Climate trends and global crop production since 1980. Science 333, 616–620 (2011).

    ADS  CAS  Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  17. 17.

    Wheeler, T., Von & Braun, J. Climate change impacts on global food security. Science 341, 508–513 (2013).

    ADS  CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  18. 18.

    Asseng, S. et al. Rising temperatures reduce global wheat production. Nat. Clim. Change 5, 143–147 (2015).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  19. 19.

    Challinor, A. J. et al. A meta-analysis of crop yield under climate change and adaptation. Nat. Clim. Change 4, 287–291 (2014).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  20. 20.

    Rosenzweig, C. et al. Assessing agricultural risks of climate change in the 21st century in a global gridded crop model intercomparison. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. 111, 3268–3273 (2014).

    ADS  CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  21. 21.

    Scheelbeek, P. F. et al. Effect of environmental changes on vegetable and legume yields and nutritional quality. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. 115, 6804–6809 (2018).

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  22. 22.

    Alae-Carew, C. et al. The impact of environmental changes on the yield and nutritional quality of fruits, nuts and seeds: a systematic review. Environ. Res. Lett. 15, 023002 (2019).

    ADS  Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  23. 23.

    Challinor, A., Wheeler, T., Garforth, C., Craufurd, P. & Kassam, A. Assessing the vulnerability of food crop systems in Africa to climate change. Clim. Change 83, 381–399 (2007).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  24. 24.

    Bita, C. & Gerats, T. Plant tolerance to high temperature in a changing environment: scientific fundamentals and production of heat stress-tolerant crops. Front. Plant Sci. 4, 273 (2013).

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  25. 25.

    Lobell, D. B., Bänziger, M., Magorokosho, C. & Vivek, B. Nonlinear heat effects on African maize as evidenced by historical yield trials. Nat. Clim. Change 1, 42–45 (2011).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  26. 26.

    Lipper, L. et al. Climate-smart agriculture for food security. Nat. Clim. Change 4, 1068–1072 (2014).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  27. 27.

    Moore, F. C., Baldos, U., Hertel, T. & Diaz, D. New science of climate change impacts on agriculture implies higher social cost of carbon. Nat. Commun. 8, 1–9 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. 28.

    Butler, S. & Jones, S. Holy guacamole! Avocado fans in UK face further price rises. Demand from China and harvest problems in Mexico, Peru and US has led to wholesale prices of fruit surging by more than 50%. The Guardian (12 May 2017).

  29. 29.

    Why is there a vegetable shortage? BBC News (3 February 2017);

  30. 30.

    Qureshi, M. E., Hanjra, M. A. & Ward, J. Impact of water scarcity in Australia on global food security in an era of climate change. Food Policy 38, 136–145 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. 31.

    Trostle, R. Global Agricultural Supply and Demand: Factors Contributing to the Recent Increase in Food Commodity Prices (Diane Publishing, 2010).

  32. 32.

    FAOSTAT Database (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2013).

  33. 33.

    Kastner, T., Kastner, M. & Nonhebel, S. Tracing distant environmental impacts of agricultural products from a consumer perspective. Ecol. Econ. 70, 1032–1040 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. 34.

    Gobbo, L. et al. Assessing global dietary habits: a comparison of national estimates from the FAO and the Global Dietary Database 1–4. Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 101, 1038–1046 (2015).

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  35. 35.

    UK Horticulture Statistics - 2019 (UK Government, 2019);

  36. 36.

    Dolan, C. & Humphrey, J. Governance and trade in fresh vegetables: the impact of UK supermarkets on the African horticulture industry. J. Dev. Stud. 37, 147–176 (2000).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  37. 37.

    Dolan, C. & Humphrey, J. Changing governance patterns in the trade in fresh vegetables between Africa and the United Kingdom. Environ. Plan. A 36, 491–509 (2004).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  38. 38.

    Edwards-Jones, G. et al. Vulnerability of exporting nations to the development of a carbon label in the United Kingdom. Environ. Sci. Policy 12, 479–490 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  39. 39.

    Smith, P. et al. in Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change (eds Edenhofer, O. et al.) Ch. 11 (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2014).

  40. 40.

    Gouel, C. & Laborde, D. The Crucial Role of International Trade in Adaptation to Climate Change (National Bureau of Economic Research, 2018).

  41. 41.

    Zhao, C. et al. Temperature increase reduces global yields of major crops in four independent estimates. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. 114, 9326–9331 (2017).

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  42. 42.

    Recipe for Disaster: How Climate Change Threatens British-Grown Fruit and Veg (The Climate Coalition, 2019).

  43. 43.

    Headey, D. & Fan, S. Reflections on the Global Food Crisis: How Did It Happen? How Has It Hurt? And How Can We Prevent the Next One? Research Monograph 165 (International Food Policy Research Institute, 2010).

  44. 44.

    Behar, A. & Venables, A. J. Transport Costs and International Trade. A Handbook of Transport Economics (Edward Elgar Publishing, 2011).

  45. 45.

    Seferidi, P. et al. Impacts of Brexit on fruit and vegetable intake and cardiovascular disease in England: a modelling study. BMJ Open 9, e026966 (2019).

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  46. 46.

    Hawkesworth, S. et al. Feeding the world healthily: the challenge of measuring the effects of agriculture on health. Philos. Trans. R. Soc. Lond. B 365, 3083–3097 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  47. 47.

    Hess, T. & Sutcliffe, C. The exposure of a fresh fruit and vegetable supply chain to global water-related risks. Water Int. 43, 746–761 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  48. 48.

    Poore, J. & Nemecek, T. Reducing food’s environmental impacts through producers and consumers. Science 360, 987–992 (2018).

    ADS  CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  49. 49.

    Bateman, I. J. & Mace, G. M. The natural capital framework for sustainably efficient and equitable decision making. Nat. Sustain. (2020).

  50. 50.

    Gornall, J. et al. Implications of climate change for agricultural productivity in the early twenty-first century. Philos. Trans. R. Soc. B 365, 2973–2989 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  51. 51.

    5 A Day: what counts? NHS (2015).

  52. 52.

    Westons Cider Report 2019 (H. Weston & Sons Ltd, 2019);

  53. 53.

    Table and Dried Grapes. FAO-OIV Focus 2016. Non-alcoholic Products of the Vitivinicultural Sector Intended for Human Consumption (FAO and OIV, 2016).

  54. 54.

    Kastner, T. & Nonhebel, S. Changes in land requirements for food in the Philippines: a historical analysis. Land Use Policy 27, 853–863 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  55. 55.

    Chen, C. et al. University of Notre Dame Global Adaptation Index Country Index Technical Report (ND-GAIN, 2015).

  56. 56.

    Climate Data Online 2019 (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 2019);

  57. 57.

    Gassert, F., Reig, P., Luo, T. & Maddocks, A. A Weighted Aggregation of Spatially Distinct Hydrological Indicators (World Resources Institute, 2013).

  58. 58.

    Global Country Borders (DIVA-GIS, accessed 20 October 2020);

Download references


This study was funded by The Wellcome Trust (grants 205200/Z/16/Z and 210794/Z/18/Z).

Author information




P.F.D.S., R.G., A.T., A.H. and A.D.D. contributed to the conceptualization of the study. P.F.D.S., C.M., T.K. and C.A.-C. contributed to the data curation. P.F.D.S., C.M. and C.A.-C. conducted the formal analysis. A.D.D. and P.F.D.S. contributed to the funding acquisition. P.F.D.S. conducted the investigation. P.F.D.S., C.M., T.K., R.G., A.H. and A.D.D. designed the methodology. P.F.D.S. developed the visualization of results. P.F.D.S. wrote the original manuscript. C.M., T.K., C.A.-C., R.G., S.J., A.T., A.H. and A.D.D. commented on or edited the manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Pauline F. D. Scheelbeek.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Additional information

Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Figures 1–5, Tables 1–7 and Note 1.

Reporting Summary

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Scheelbeek, P.F.D., Moss, C., Kastner, T. et al. United Kingdom’s fruit and vegetable supply is increasingly dependent on imports from climate-vulnerable producing countries. Nat Food 1, 705–712 (2020).

Download citation

Further reading


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing