Coronavirus: Food industry questions test-and-trace system

By Michelle Perrett

- Last updated on GMT

The food sector is concerned about the impact of the test-and-trace system
The food sector is concerned about the impact of the test-and-trace system

Related tags: coronavirus

The food and drink industry has raised concerns about the impact the Government’s test-and-trace system could have on the sector.

The worry is that food manufacturers could face large absences if staff are forced to quarantine for 14 days if any of them have been in contact with someone infected with coronavirus. 

The Food & Drink Federation (FDF) has admitted it has concerns, and is working with the Government for some practical solutions. 

An FDF spokesperson said: “It was always essential that Government was able to implement its ambitious target of having a test-and-trace system in place in order to start to relax lock down measures successfully. 

“With substantial planning and investment, food and drink manufacturers have put in place social distancing and other suitable mitigation measures in factories. It is essential these are recognised by tracers and we remain in constant dialogue with DEFRA [Department of Food and Rural Affairs] and Government officials, as we have done throughout the crisis, to ensure that we can come up with practical solutions to ensure those concerns are met.”

 

Questions

The British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) has also voiced its concern, saying there were still “a lot of questions”​ being asked in the food industry regarding the system and the detail of how it would work in a food setting. 

It acknowledged that the Department of Health and Social Care had confirmed the system was still being refined, so further updates or modifications could happen.

The BMPA said it was proposing the possibility of setting up an industry liaison with Government to help with clarification on how modifications to the working environment, such as screens and social distancing, would be taken into consideration. 

Last month, questions were already being raised about Government plans to quarantine anyone entering the country for 14-days, which could have an impact on the UK’s labour market and the ability to pick the seasonal harvest.

Seasonal workers

Speaking during an Environment, Food & Rural Affairs Committee session on COVID-19 and food supply, Ian Wright, chief executive of the Food & Drink Federation told MPs these plans were a big concern as around 60,000 seasonal workers usually came to the country​ to work on farms.

However, these workers have been given a dispensation as they will self-isolate on the property where they are working.

NFU vice president Tom Bradshaw said: “This exemption is a practical solution that allows workers to undertake key roles on farms while ensuring they don’t present risks to other farm workers or rural communities.

“As we begin to reach the peak of the picking season, thousands of vacancies will continue to open up on farms across the country and while it is positive that seasonal workers will be able to begin work without delay after arriving in the UK, the need for workers to pick, pack and grade fruit and veg remains.”

Related topics: COVID-19

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