In an open letter to the Government, the heads of the British Meat Processors Association, the British Poultry Council, the Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers, Associations of Independent Meat Suppliers and the Northern Ireland Meat Exporters Association have called for meat factory workers to be first in line for a vaccine.
The demands were in response to the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation’s (JCVI’s) recent publication of a provisional ranking of prioritisation of groups for the COVID-19 vaccine.
Mainly focused on people over the age of 50, the JVCI’s list had yet to determine the priority for the ‘rest of the population’ to receive potential treatment.
The assembled meat processing organisations argued that the well documented accounts of coronavirus outbreaks in meat factories made the sector a prime candidate for coronavirus relief measures, noting the novel challenges faced at production sites.
“These developments are in the context of the food processing sector being recognised as an essential sector and food sector employees being designated as key workers, given their importance of maintaining food supply chains,” the letter read.
Meat industry investment
“The industry throughout the UK has undertaken significant investment in adjustments to their operations to reduce the risk to their workers. Notwithstanding the measures being undertaken, there may be aspects of the factory environment and/or employee communities that make the sector more vulnerable to COVID-19.”
The past two months has seen a number of meat processors report clusters of coronavirus at their factories, including 2 Sisters Food Group, Pilgrim’s Pride and Danish Crown.
“Given the vulnerability of the sector and in light of the contribution of our key workers to food security during this crisis, we are asking that key workers in the meat sector are prioritised in the interest of protecting these employees and in turn, protecting the broader community,” the letter added.
Meanwhile, Welsh food and drink producers have come together to urge the Prime Minister to take essential action before the end of the Brexit transition period.