The suggested move would follow the example of America’s Centre for Disease Control, said the BMPA.
The new highly transmissible variant of the COVID-19 virus now poses a “much greater risk to the smooth running of the nation’s food supply chain”, it added.
The BMPA said the risk of more rapid spread of the virus among key workers poses a severe challenge to the industry.
“The nature of food processing means that we have a cold factory environment which is challenging,” said Nick Allen, CEO of BMPA.
Allen added that the rural locations of many meat plants means that workers often opt for house-sharing and car-sharing in the absence of other types of accommodation and transport.
“These two factors that were once simply part of the job, mean that our key workers face extra challenges and a higher risk of contracting COVID-19,” he said.
Allen warned that any interruption to food production due to the pandemic must be avoided against the backdrop of recent border closures and the approaching end of the Brexit transition period.
“Having witnessed the kind of disruption to our trade in fresh food with Europe over the last few days that will be triggered next by the new customs system from 1 January, we can’t risk our domestic production being hit by coronavirus-related factory shut-downs as well,” he said.
“We are therefore calling on government to extend prioritisation for vaccinations to include meat factory workers. This would provide much-needed protection and comfort to this at-risk group and the communities in which they live, as well as ensuring that the critical food supply chain continues to run smoothly.”
In November, representatives of the meat industry wrote an open letter to the government calling for meat factory workers to be first in line for the vaccine. Signatories included Allen, as well as the heads of the British Poultry Council, the Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers, Associations of Independent Meat Suppliers and the Northern Ireland Meat Exporters Association.