Both the vital role played by domestic supply and the critical contribution made by key workers in food production to achieving overall food security have been emphasised by the coronavirus pandemic, according to market commentary by QMS director of economic services Stuart Ashworth.
Ashworth highlighted the move towards direct-to-consumer models, which many meat businesses had adopted in the wake of the pandemic – adaptations that he believed would broaden the demand for meat.
“Nevertheless, it is likely to be some time before restaurants and bars return to normal and, when they do, it will be some time before consumers feel confident enough to eat out,” he added.
The fate of meat in the US
QMS also elaborated on the key role of meat processors in the supply chain, with a focus on learning from the fate of similar factories in the US.
Last month, a number of meat factories were forced to close down due to outbreaks of COVID-19, which sparked fears over supplies. Stocks of meat in cold stores will run out before some of the meat processing factories re-open and, in some areas, while market-ready animals are backing up on farms, QMS claimed.
“In the UK, we have not seen processing plants close, although many have slowed down, but the comparison with the United States illustrates how important those working in food processing establishments are and emphasises why they are key workers, as much as medical workers,” said Ashworth.
He went on to point out the importance of domestic supply during these trying times. The UK supply chain has not faced significant disruption, thanks to the continued running of cross-channel ferries.
Due to a reduction in passenger travel, most operations in ports have been dedicated to freight transport, thanks to support from the Government. However, should these ferry routes collapse due to a lack of financial viability, the just-in-time model for food delivery could collapse.
“What the above discussion illustrates is that, irrespective of coronavirus, the strategic importance of food security that comes from access to domestic supplies and the availability of skilled workers in the food industry must be better appreciated,” he continued.
“Given the additional planning required to manage current and future coronavirus disruption, recognition must also be given to the limited amount of time available to put procedures in place that a hastily concluded negotiation could result in.”
Meanwhile, meat prices will suffer if premium cuts are frozen to manage the collapse of foodservice demand under EU Private Storage Aid proposals, according to the Livestock and Meat Commission for Northern Ireland.