‘Menacing maelstrom of uncertainty’ confronts meat industry

By Michelle Perrett

- Last updated on GMT

Hybu Cig Cymru-Meat Promotion Wales’ (HCC) chairman Kevin Roberts: Welsh meat sector faces “worrying challenges”
Hybu Cig Cymru-Meat Promotion Wales’ (HCC) chairman Kevin Roberts: Welsh meat sector faces “worrying challenges”

Related tags: coronavirus

The Welsh meat sector faces “worrying challenges” and “a menacing maelstrom of uncertainty” amid further disruption from coronavirus and an EU trade deadlock, Hybu Cig Cymru-Meat Promotion Wales’ (HCC) chairman Kevin Roberts has warned.

He said Wales’s red meat industry had shown great adaptability and resilience in responding to the COVID-19 crisis. 

“And waiting stage right is the bear of Brexit,” ​Roberts said. “With time ticking for the post-Brexit trade talks, lots of end-of-year outcomes remain possible but from our industry’s standpoint, there are simply no upsides to any of these – save continued free trade with Europe.”

Roberts said HCC was carefully planning for all scenarios but cautioned that a harder Brexit was looming that would potentially bring massive tariffs on exports and threats to farms from trade deals with Australia, New Zealand, or America.

HCC said the coronavirus pandemic had fuelled a change in consumer habits. With the closure of foodservice, HCC changed its approach to marketing, contributing to an increase of 40% on spending on beef steaks. 

“This wasn’t just existing customers buying more,” ​said Roberts. “The number of people buying beef steaks was up 30%, as we saw consumers turning to quality fresh meat. Our independent butchers saw an even bigger jump in sales. Beef up over 40%, lamb up 25%.”

Lamb and beef

Roberts’s comments came as HCC published three papers indicating that the lamb and beef industry in the country had adapted to the coronavirus lockdown and the closure of foodservice. 

HCC revealed consumers adopted ‘recessionary’ buying patterns in the spring, purchasing large quantities of cheaper cuts, before shifting to higher-quality products in response to promotions and the desire to experiment with new recipes. 

HCC said that many shoppers returned to buying products such as lamb chops and beef steaks, recognising them as high-quality trusted foods.

Meanwhile, meat factories in Wales have been heavily hit by the impact of coronavirus with clusters of cases​ affecting 2 Sisters Food Group, Rowan Foods and Kepak Mertyr. 

Public Health Wales has revealed that there have been no new cases of coronavirus linked with the 2 Sisters outbreak at Llangefni in Anglesey.  

A cluster of more than 200 coronavirus cases​ was confirmed at 2 Sisters’ chicken plant in Llangefni, Wales, following a rapid screening exercise. 

The company temporarily closed the site for 14 days following initial confirmation of a cluster of coronavirus cases​.

The number of confirmed cases at the Rowan Foods site has risen to 309, from an initially reported 38 confirmed cases​. 

Dr Chris Williams, incident director for the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak response at Public Health Wales, said: “The multi-agency team managing the outbreak of Coronavirus associated with Rowan Foods Ltd in Wrexham has recorded 309 cases. There continues to be no evidence that this outbreak is factory-based, and the results we have identified are what we would expect to see when a focused testing takes place.

“In addition, the total number of positive cases identified at the Kepak Merthyr meat processing plant is 139 since April. Investigations in this cluster continue, and updates will be issued in the coming days.” 

 

Task Force

Meanwhile, the British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) has expressed concern over the lack of consistency in how UK meat plants were being dealt with at a local level. It said that there had not been enough coordination between inspectors from Public Health England, Food Standards Agency, local Environmental Health officers and the Health and Safety Executive when inspecting meat plants.

A spokesman for the BMPA said: “In response to these concerns Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs has created a task force to bring all parties together to harmonise how site visits are conducted and foster a greater level of efficiency and co-operation between agencies and industry. 

“BMPA will be able to feed information from member companies directly into this task force, which will offer a practical, real-time insight into to the difficulties, constraints and opportunities meat companies are seeing. It will also allow inspectors to be more targeted and locally focused in their approach.”​ 

It said initial information gathering and consultation would form the foundation for new guidance from Government agencies responsible for health and safety in the meat industry. It would also help foster a more rounded and co-ordinated approach to meat plant inspections.

Related topics: COVID-19

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