THE BRITISH POULTRY COUNCIL (BPC) has called for “pragmatic proposals” from the government to deal with potential labour shortfalls in the sector as the coronavirus crisis escalates.

In particular, how to manage the potential loss of “vital people” in the poultry supply chain, from farm managers to official veterinarians in slaughterhouses.

Some estimates have suggested that, at its peak, some 20% of the UK’s workforce could be off work because of Covid-19.

‘Two-to-three days flex’

BPC chief executive Richard Griffiths said that poultry farms rearing broilers had just two-to-three days’ worth of flexibility when it came to sending birds for processing.

Disruptions to slaughterhouse capacity could, therefore, have a significant impact on bird welfare and the supply of poultrymeat.

While cover could be provided for general staff up to a point, key positions like Official Veterinarians or Meat Hygiene Inspectors could be more challenging to fill.

‘Pragmatic proposals’

“We are hoping for pragmatic proposals to come forward for how to manage a loss of vital staff,” he told Poultry.Network.

Mr Griffiths added that there were also potential “pinch-points” on farm, where labour issues could potentially create welfare problems.

In addition to contingency planning for staffing, the BPC has called for the government to:

  • Recognise food security as a national security issue
  • Introduce tax breaks for parts of the supply chain that may face financial distress
  • Include those working in the food chain as “key workers” and offer schooling provision to their children if necessary
  • Recognise the role of businesses in the food supply chain and extend the business rate holiday to them

“From farmers and vets who look after our birds, through butchers and engineers who keep our factories working, to drivers and distributors who get food to the shelves, it’s essential that food production is prioritised during this difficult time,” Mr Griffiths said.