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Food shortages, stockpiling and panic buying ahead of Brexit as reported by the British media: a mixed methods content analysis

Coleman, P. ORCID: 0000-0002-8681-9070, Dhaif, F. & Oyebode, O. (2022). Food shortages, stockpiling and panic buying ahead of Brexit as reported by the British media: a mixed methods content analysis. BMC Public Health, 22(1), 206. doi: 10.1186/s12889-022-12548-8

Abstract

Background
On 23 June 2016, the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union. From that date until the UK left the EU in January 2021, there were frequent warnings from industry and government sources of potential disruption to the food supply chain and possible food shortages. Over this period, the media had an important role in communicating on the potential impacts of Brexit. This study examines how food supply and demand, in the context of Brexit, was portrayed by the British media.

Methods
The study consisted of two components: (1) a quantitative analysis measuring frequency of reporting and information sources for articles on food supply and demand in the context of Brexit, in three daily newspapers, between January 2015 and January 2020; and (2) a content analysis exploring key themes and media framing of relevant issues in a subset of articles.

Results
Reports by the media about the impact of Brexit on the UK food system were largely absent in the six months before the UK voted to leave the EU in June 2016, increasing in frequency from mid-2018 onward, peaking in mid-2019 following the appointment of Boris Johnson as prime minister. Five themes were developed from included articles: food shortages/panic buying (appearing in 96% of articles); food chain disruption (86%); economic impacts (80%); preparation and stockpiling by the government/food sector (63%) and preparation and stockpiling by individuals (22%).

Conclusion
Government messaging sought to reassure the public that even under a worst-case scenario there would be no food shortages. These messages, however, contradicted warnings in the media of disruption to the food supply chain and food shortages. The media further reinforced this narrative of potential food shortages by reporting on the experiences of those preparing for Brexit by stockpiling food. The media must consider the impact of their messaging on public behaviour, as even imagined food shortages can instigate stockpiling and panic buying behaviour, as observed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article's Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article's Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver (http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/) applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated in a credit line to the data.
Publisher Keywords: Panic buying, Food shortages, Brexit, Media analysis
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
J Political Science > JN Political institutions (Europe) > JN101 Great Britain
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN1990 Broadcasting
R Medicine > RA Public aspects of medicine > RA0421 Public health. Hygiene. Preventive Medicine
Departments: School of Health Sciences > Healthcare Services Research & Management
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