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Bring in the army: Food group's call to relieve UK lorry driver crisis

LONDON, July 2 (Reuters) - Premier Foods, one of Britain’s biggest food companies, has called on the government to consider using the army to distribute goods to help relieve a severe shortage of truck drivers.

Last week industry leaders warned Britain could face gaps on supermarket shelves this summer and an “unimaginable” collapse of supply chains after the pandemic and Brexit led to a shortage of more than 100,000 heavy goods vehicle (HGV) drivers.

At a meeting on Monday between officials from the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and food industry representatives, Premier Foods’ delegate asked the government to consider using the army to distribute supplies, given that some military personnel hold HGV licenses.

Details of the meeting were first reported by ITV News.

“This was one of many ideas put forward in an industry brainstorming session,” a spokesman for Premier Foods, which owns brands including Mr Kipling, Bisto, Ambrosia and Paxo, said on Friday.

“At Premier Foods, we have plans in place to manage the situation within our supply chain.”

A spokesman for Britain’s Ministry of Defence said it had not received a formal request to provide support.

At the DEFRA meeting Chris Hall, head of logistics at Asda, Britain’s third largest supermarket group after Tesco and Sainsbury’s, said the grocer was “just about keeping our head above water”.

He warned however that any spike in demand this summer would “give us significant challenges and disruption”.

Industry lobby group the British Retail Consortium (BRC) said the fall in HGV driver numbers has resulted in minor disruption to some supply chains.

“Supermarkets are working closely with their suppliers to ensure that consumers still have access to the same great selection of goods,” said Andrew Opie, the BRC’s director of food & sustainability.

“The government must rapidly increase the number of HGV driving tests taking place while also looking for a longer-term solution to this issue.”

The government has said most of the solutions are likely to be commercial and from within industry. (Reporting by James Davey; Editing by Jan Harvey)

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