Speaking at the Meat Business Women Conference in London on Tuesday (14 May), she said that the industry needed to work together internationally to fight the threat of animal diseases.
“The disease that keeps me awake at night is ASF. We have increased our import risk of ASF, the pig virus that there is no vaccine for,” she said. “This is because it is in Eastern Europe in the boar population. It has been held, but the wild boar population is such that the disease sustains itself and we are constantly at risk of it moving further west.”
She said that foot-and-mouth was another disease she had concerns about, and highlighted the impact it had on farmers, as well as the wider rural industry, when the UK experienced it in 2001. She also said Bovine TB was an “endemic disease” and a “terrible scourge”.
Middlemiss added there was worry about the diseases because of the impacts to public health, economic, trade and animal welfare. Climate change was also highlighted as a risk factor to disease.
She stressed how it was important to work with EU neighbours, whether the UK was part of the EU or not.
Also speaking at the conference, Teresa Exelby, people director at Morrisons, explained how the company, as well as being a grocery chain, was the second biggest food manufacturer in the UK, with 18 sites.
Exelby issued a warning that the employment market was about to change. She said that as UK employment was at its lowest level since 1975 and net migration was reducing at an “alarming rate”, hourly workers would “start to get their pick of the crop in terms of jobs”.
“They will decide how and when they work, the type of work they want to do and, most importantly, the place they want to do it in,” she said.
“They will pick somewhere with a great reputation and five stars on social media. I think that, in the next two to three years, it is highly likely that all of our organisations will be rated publicly on things like available facilities, adequate training, uniforms and, most importantly, how good their boss is.”
Meanwhile, Ursula Lavery, technical and R&D director Europe at Moy Park, advised women at the event to “take the opportunities when they come”.
She also explained how Moy Park’s commitment to Farm Africa has had a real impact on poor communities. Lavery was part of a 14-strong group of women who went to Tanzania to help build beehives for a local village.
“How ungrateful are we, in western society, with what we have,” she said. “People can be very happy with very little.”
The event was also attended by Her Royal Highness The Princess Royal who discussed animal production systems and the importance of networking groups such as Meat Business Women.