The coronavirus crisis is beginning to pose a number of challenges for British poultry meat businesses. Given that the human impact of the crisis is significant, British Poultry Council members are working hard to ensure employee wellbeing, address business challenges and risks, and mitigate the consequences of the outbreak as much as possible. While the current impact of COVID-19 on food supply remains minimal, it could potentially disrupt our supply chains if the outbreak continues to escalate.
A billion birds are reared for meat every year providing half the meat the country eat. The UK is one of the largest exporters of high value genetic breeding stock. Our sector relies heavily on our people, their expertise and skills. If the outbreak continues to escalate and our businesses face continued absence of both a significant proportion of their workers and/or roles with specific skills, then it may compromise the flow of food through the supply chain.
Food is a special case, it should be treated as a national security issue, and be protected as such. Government must consider measures to cushion food producers from the impact of coronavirus. British poultry meat producers want to work with the Government to mitigate any impact on national food security. All key players (industry, Government, NFU, FSA, BRC) must work in partnership to provide a robust response to this crisis and help keep the food chain moving.
Here are some of our challenges:
- Logistics post-processing
Getting food to where it is needed is vulnerable to a loss of staff across the logistics chain, whether drivers, trans-shipment personnel, or planners. Without these both food movement and vehicle availability will be compromised.
- Slaughterhouse and processing staff
The ability to process around 20 million birds per week is reasonably labour intensive with around 30,000 people employed in this section of the industry. Loss of personnel, particularly in highly skilled roles such as butchery, could compromise the throughput both at individual plant level and on a national scale. This in turn will have an effect on the subsequent logistics needs.
- Logistics and welfare on farms
Transport of birds (and feed) to and from farms reflects the food logistics described above, but a specific task of catching birds relies on skilled people. A reduced capacity for catching both reduces throughput of production and may have a knock-on effect on bird welfare. Being a just-in-time supply chain the ability to remove birds from farms when needed is essential. If not, then they may become over-stocked and their health and welfare compromised.
- Continuity of supplies
Our supply chain relies on a number of key inputs. The lack of CO2 in 2018 is an example of the vulnerability of the system to shortages or the inability to deliver supplies. Equally pertinent is feed for birds generally, but specifically some of the minerals and vitamins necessary for healthy growth that are sourced from around the world (a significant proportion from China).
- Financial viability of businesses
In cases where there is a significant loss of personnel or supplies, and therefore have to reduce/stop production, then otherwise healthy and profitable businesses may suffer financially, or even cease trading, in a very short period of time.
Watch this space for more information.