UK families are paying £605 more for their food than they did two years ago, with climate change being the main reason for the high prices, according to researchers.

Rising costs due to extreme weather have kept food inflation high throughout 2022 and 2023 even as energy prices decreased.

Recent flooding in the UK left cereal, potato and other crops rotting underwater, farmers have said, while extreme heat and drought in Spain has damaged olive harvests and pushed up the price of olive oil by around 50%.

Other staple products like sugar, rice and tomatoes have been impacted by extreme weather, with food inflation rising to around 20% this spring.

With the UK importing nearly half of its food, and climate change increasing in severity, experts from the universities of Bournemouth, Exeter and Sheffield have warned that food prices are likely to remain high.

Their report on the effect of climate and fossil fuels on food bills, commissioned by the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit, sets out what Professor Wyn Morgan, from the University of Sheffield, described as a “hidden” cause of rising bills.

He said: “It is clear from the evidence that climate change is an increasingly prominent feature amongst the drivers of food price inflation.

“In 2022, energy costs dominated the headlines and these fed through to a high headline rate of inflation for food.

“And yet, as energy costs have fallen back, climate change has emerged as a bigger driver of inflation for food over the last two years.”

Food basket
Increased food prices have pushed UK families towards relying more on food banks (Jonathan Brady/PA)

The researchers calculated that since the start of 2022, £361 of increases are attributable to climate change and £244 to oil and gas, using a 1950-80 baseline to work out the growing impact.

Dr Pete Falloon, climate service lead for food, farming and natural environment at the Met Office, said that generally, the more global temperatures rise, the lower crop yields will be.

Current decarbonisation policies among all nations has the Earth on track for around 3C of warming by the end of the century, with the atmosphere already having warmed by 1.2C above pre-industrial levels in 2023.

Average temperatures are rising faster on land than over the ocean as the water can absorb more heat, meaning areas of cropland are heating faster than the global average suggests.

Last week Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said at the Global Food Security Summit that the Government will launch a new virtual hub to link UK scientists with others around the world to help develop, among other initiatives, climate-resistant crops.

Global Food Security Summit
The Prime Minister opened the Global Food Security Summit in London last week, aiming in part to mitigate the climate effects on food production (Dan Kitwood/PA)

Up to £100 million is to be made available to countries suffering climate-related extreme weather, such as Malawi, and to other countries hit by food insecurity including Ethiopia, Sudan, South Sudan and Afghanistan.

In the UK, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs wants to use an incoming subsidy system called Environmental Land Management schemes that aim to support farmers by offering money to produce food that does not damage wildlife, with grants to support research aimed at improving the country’s food security.

Anna Taylor, executive director of the The Food Foundation, said: “This year one third of food inflation was attributable to climate change, and we should expect a lot more in future.

“We need action in three areas: first reducing the contribution which food systems make to global temperature rises; second creating a more resilient food system which can cope with climate instability; and third supporting families to become more able to cope with price shocks without being pushed into crisis.

“With an estimated 17% of households in Britain currently experiencing food insecurity, this is a top priority for policy makers.”