Meat supplies at risk from coronavirus labour shortages

By Gwen Ridler

- Last updated on GMT

Labour shortages due to coronavirus could significantly impact meat supplies in the UK
Labour shortages due to coronavirus could significantly impact meat supplies in the UK

Related tags coronavirus

Meat supplies in the UK are at serious risk of disruption from a shortage of labour due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to the British Meat Processors Association (BMPA).

With large numbers of staff working in close quarters, meat processors could be in danger of a complete shutdown should infected employees turn up for work.

While the Government has advised for sick workers and those coming from an infected household to stay at home, there is a risk that waged workers will not stay at home for statutory sick pay of just £94.25 per week – less than a quarter of typical wages in the meat processing sector.

Coronavirus update

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Advise relates to concerns about product contamination and the possibility of a sick workforce.

Business Interruption Insurance

The BMPA pointed out that large processing operations were also vulnerable because Business Interruption Insurance protection does not cover losses or closure related to COVID-19, and Government support for business interruptions only relates to small businesses. 

Chief executive Nick Allen called for measures designed to protect business with less than 250 employees to be extended to include large business operating in the food processing sector.

He also called for sick pay for people off work with COVID-19 (voluntarily or medically) to be increased and refunded to all food companies, regardless of size. Allen cited the Republic of Ireland’s increase in illness benefit from €203 to €305 per week as a good example of how this could work.

“The sustained operation of the food industry is an essential service to the UK population and economy during this crisis,”​ Allen added. “BMPA is working with farmers, retailers, Defra ​[the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs], the Food Standards Agency and organisations up and down the food supply chain to formulate a pragmatic approach to these challenges.

‘Regulatory flexibility’

“We are calling for some regulatory flexibility in areas such as country-of-origin labelling, veterinary duties in abattoirs and the 10-day shelf-life rule, which our research shows can be safely extended for all red meat. We now call on Government to put the measures in place that will enable food processors and manufacturers to maintain supplies to the British public.”

The BMPA also identified a dramatic shift in demand for meat products over the past couple of weeks, as more people stockpile in preparation to stay at home. Supermarkets have seen meat orders increase by 20–30%, while out-of-home sales have dropped off significantly.

This comes as the food manufacturing sector gears up to increase volume as it reported trading on certain products was above Christmas levels.

The seismic shift in consumer buying habits has impacted meat processors supplying to the foodservice industry, who are unable to divert capacity to supply to supermarkets and vice-versa.

This, in turn, has put even more pressure on those manufacturers now at risk from labour shortages thanks to the coronavirus.

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