Food Shortages

Shortages in food supply and difficulties ensuring food distribution resulted in National and local food control committees being established.

Even before war was declared there was fear that food prices would increase and indeed they did, resulting in people hoarding  and pushing prices up even higher. But a few days into the war confidence was restored as the government set official retail prices on the 11th August 1914.

Throughout the war Germany intermittently implemented a policy of unrestricted submarine warfare, which resulted in merchant vessels being sunk without warning should they be suspected of trading with the Allies. At certain times this threat was so grave that it threatened the ability of Great Britain to feed and supply itself and its army.

In the months of April, May, and June 1917, over 2 million tons of Allied shipping was lost. High food prices and claims about profiteering were contributing to unrest, the Board of Trade estimated that the cost of food had on average more than doubled.

When Lord Rhondda became Food Controller in July 1917 his aim was to fix the prices of essential foods of which the supply can be controlled. This work was decentralised to local food control committees who were to enforce the Food Controllers Orders, register the retailers of various foodstuffs, recommend necessary variations in the scale of retail prices, to continue and develop food economy campaigns and to administer a new scheme of sugar distribution.

The Bradford committee first met on 19th August 1917. Sub committees for sugar, meat, flour & bread, potatoes and milk, which had Food Orders, were quickly established containing representatives from relevant trade associations.   To claim compensation under the orders retailers stocks were verified by a chartered accountant, special constable, or a responsible householder.

Sugar cards were issued to every householder in October 1917 to overcome previous inequalities in distribution.

In November 1917 the Ministry of Food approved the spending of £1 per thousand population on food economy campaigns providing Bradford with a budget of £256.

Two inspectors were appointed to ensure that the Food Orders were known to everyone and to detect and prosecute offences. The policy was to be lenient however there were cases of breaking the law wilfully and with knowledge leaving no alternative but prosecution.

In the run up to Christmas 1917 there were shortages in particular of butter, margarine and tea with queues outside shops. The Committee told the Ministry of Food that a scheme of rationing of all necessary food stuffs should be introduced without delay.

In February 1918 ration cards were issued for butter and margarine.  Bradford worked with the surrounding districts of Baildon, Clayton, Denholme, Drighlington, Queensbury, Shelf and Shipley to develop a uniform scheme. The queues disappeared but there were frequent complaints about the equitable distribution.

Wednesdays were fixed as meatless days to overcome shortages in supplies and meat was rationed in March 1918 with supplementary rations provided to adolescent boys and heavy workers. In May 1918 40% of the meat available was frozen, some butchers resented this and refused to deal with it, the Committee was authorised to withdraw their certificate of distribution.

When the war ended world food prices were expected to rise exacerbated by removing the Food Control Orders. The Ministry of Food however wanted to decontrol as soon as possible.

The committee was strongly of the opinion that as long as any shortage exists the supply should be controlled. The General Railway Strike of summer 1919 caused further distribution problems and the committee was authorized to commandeer supplies as they saw necessary.

 The committee was finally wound up in June 1920.


Milk price and supply

There were many discussions about the milk situation in Bradford, in Feburary 1918 the Ministry of Food  empowered Bradford Corporation to take over milk supply to the city under the Defense of the Realm Regulations. But the council did not agree to the recommendation.

The committee then tried to organize a milk distribution scheme. But there was disagreement between the committee and milk retailers both over price and distribution . This resulted in a Ministry of Food inquiry into milk prices and the milk retailers putting their own distribution scheme in place.

In the winter of 1919 there was such concern over milk supplies that the council spent £500 on sweetened tinned milk for emergency purposes and the price rose to a high of 11½d but returned to 8d by April. Some milk suppliers were in habit of mixing new milk with milk 12 hours old.