BMPA gives the meat industry perspective on the coronavirus crisis to EFRA inquiry
This is an overview of some of the main points to come out of the recent EFRA Committee meeting on the impact of the Covid-19 crisis on the food industry which BMPA CEO Nick Allen attended.
Carcase imbalance and the current crisis
Nick Allen explained that recent special meetings convened by Defra to get suppliers and retailers round the table to discuss and understand the problems with carcase balance and the resulting structural pricing problems have been very useful and have contributed greatly to the dialogue. This crisis will hopefully spark a change in how things are done and in turn help the beef sector which has been in trouble for a long time.
The crisis has also taught us that the just in time supply chain can be vulnerable to shocks and that we need more data and information so that players in the supply chain know and understand what’s happening so they can react more quickly. Ian Wright, CEO of the Food and Drink Federation made the point that ‘we’re trying to project new eating habits out of a supply system which is entirely designed to serve old eating habits’.
On a positive note, retail steak sales are now up about 20% on this time last year which is a sign that promotions have been working and helping the meat industry mitigate the problem of losing virtually the entire food service market. This is also feeding through into rising cattle prices, taking pressure off farmers.
Simply put, plants are not designed to cope with 2m distancing and everyone involved has been on a deep learning curve. That said, workers in food plants have always worn a lot of PPE and hygienic clothing to comply with current food safety standards. What’s changed is the type of equipment workers now need to wear particularly around our face and head.
Nick Allen pointed out that the challenge was the lack of clarity from Public Health England. Over the course of one week, we were assured we’d have the requisite information every day, but nothing materialised for a week. After that it was held up again because it had to go through the devolved Governments. In the end, Allen explained, BMPA formulated its own best practice guidance.
And, the advice is still somewhat unclear. We are being approached by companies trying to sell us various types of equipment of varying standards so, what would be useful would be standards and guidelines that we can apply.
As we come out of lockdown, we are going to need advanced warning and a clear plan so businesses in the supply chain have the time to plan and prepare properly.
Problems with testing key workers
Early on BMPA encouraged members to register but still have some members struggling to get access to the portal now. Even when tests have been done the results are taking up to six or more days to come back which makes it difficult to trace anyone workers have been in contact with since the test.
The new 14 day quarantine period for people entering the UK could cause problems with migrant workers coming in to fill vacancies in factories.
The meat industry relies on these workers because, British workers simply don’t have the right skills and are not located in the right geographical areas to be able to fill these posts. Nick Allen said that the BMPA has huge concerns going forward and need the Government to build in more flexibility into immigration policy.