The NFU's policy and commodity advisers are working to provide up to date advice on the issues impacting the poultry sector as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. This page will be updated as and when information is available.
Updated 1 May
The spread of COVID-19 (coronavirus) is a rapidly developing situation. With considerable effects felt socially and economically across the globe, there is a growing awareness that we are all facing considerable challenges. In this rapidly changing situation, the NFU COVID-19 hub has been set up online to offer up to date guidance and links for cross-sector issues to support all farmers.
Key areas of concern for the poultry sector continue to centre around labour availability throughout the supply chain, packaging, operation levels of processing/packing centres, utilisation of available products including routes to market, salmonella sampling and PPE.
Click on the key issues below for more information:
- Demand for poultry products
- Wholesale market
- Duck meat sector
- Salmonella testing
- Contingency planning
- Other considerations
A number of issues have been evolving during the past few weeks, including concerns over the availability of materials and parts, such as bedding, fuel, spare parts, and some raw materials for feed such as organic soy. These concerns are in part due to usual outlets such as saw mills and small handy stores closing their doors, and disruption at ports in China and India meaning shipments of raw materials for feed are being delayed. It is important for members to have an ongoing dialogue with their suppliers for any inputs they require including shavings, fuel and feed, and plan for potential changes to their usual supply. Contingencies should be reviewed, particularly if the case arises where a delivery cannot be made in the usual timeframe. However, bulk buying or forward purchasing should be discouraged unless it is an essential purchase.
The inability to get hold of sufficient supplies and spares has been a growing concern as this could lead to serious operational issues in some businesses. The lack of availability of sundry items may cause some businesses to grind to a halt and this isn’t just spare parts for existing businesses but also the necessary materials and access to workers in order to be able to complete the building of new, or expansion of existing, poultry houses.
More recently we have seen construction teams returning to work on new builds and expansions which has provided cautious optimism for original commitments to be met in terms of completion dates. This has been in part due to the reopening of hotels and Airbnb’s providing key workers with appropriate lodgings. However, if as a result of COVID-19, planned construction work is not able to be completed to schedule we are encouraging members to think ahead in terms of contingency planning, as consequently this may lead to knock-on effects throughout the supply chain.
Click on the question links below for advice:
- What should I do if I’m worried about looking after my birds if I fall unwell?
- How do I deal with self-isolation and my own mental wellbeing on farm?
- Am I classed as a key worker?
- What happens if my staff members get stopped on their journey to or from work?
- Do I need to do anything different if I use a minibus to transport workers to and from work or between sites?
- Is there a test my staff can take to see if they have got COVID-19?
- Can the company I use for pest control still come on farm?
- How can I achieve social distancing when receiving deliveries/facilitating collections on/off farm?
- What is the current situation regarding on farm assurance schemes and APHA inspections and will membership of an assurance scheme be affected if I can’t have an inspection?
- I’m concerned about the strength of my internet connection or I don’t have a suitable device to live stream, how will I complete this requirement of an audit?
- I’m concerned about a reduced frequency of the postal service and whether my salmonella sample will reach the laboratory in time – what should I do?
- I may not be able to get hold of my usual supply of egg packaging, what are the legal requirements for information to be printed on an egg pack?
- I am a Lion Code producer, has the requirement for the colour of the packaging I use changed?
- I am finding it difficult to obtain PPE including dust masks - what should I do?
- Is it ok for individuals to make their own dust masks if they are unable to obtain the required PPE?
- Is there a shortage of bedding/litter materials and what should I do about enrichment bales?
- My local handy shop has closed and that’s where I usually pick up spare parts, are there any alternative stores open?
- I’m concerned that I may run out of something I need to carry out my day-to-day job. i.e. fuel, feed, veterinary supplies etc – what should I do?
- With the drop in food service and wholesale requirements, could poultry products destined for this market be redirected to retail and what are retailers doing to support this?
- What are the changes to competition law?
- Is there any financial support available for my business?
- Can I furlough my workers part-time? For example, they usually work five days a week but I want to furlough them for two days and keep them in work for the remaining three days.
What should I do if I’m worried about looking after my birds if I fall unwell?
There is advice available for pet owners and livestock keepers on maintaining the welfare of their animals during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic on the gov.uk website. If you are unwell and unable to care for your animals and there is no one to help, you should call the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) or your local authority.
How do I deal with self-isolation and my own mental wellbeing on farm?
Self-isolation may help keep you physically well but mental wellbeing is important and a prolonged period of isolation can have a detrimental effect on mental health. Click here for further information on self isolation symptoms and advice and here for ideas to help keep you mentally well. If you need help there are a number of charities available to offer support. If you have children spending more time at home than usual during this time, be conscious of taking sufficient safety precautions to minimise risk to all on the farm and maintain safety.
Am I classed as a key worker?
The government has publicised its list of key workers which includes those involved in food production, processing, distribution, sale and delivery as well as those essential to the provision of other key goods (for example hygienic and veterinary medicines). This is intended to address the problems that could have been caused if workers are unable to work due to closures of schools and nurseries rather than being unwell. It is important to highlight however, that if it is at all possible for children to be at home, without relying on those in at risk groups (such as grandparents, friends/family members with underlying conditions etc) then they should still be kept home even for workers in these sectors.
What happens if my staff members get stopped on their journey to or from work?
At this point, workers can travel to or from work if their work cannot be carried out from home. We have received reports of police stopping and challenging employees or farmers about their normal course of business. To help reduce confusion, the NFU has produced an essential journey certificate for members and their employees to carry with them when travelling to/from work or between different sites. We would also suggest that an employer provides their employees with their own letter on their company letter head with the employer’s name and contact details on.
Do I need to do anything different if I use a minibus to transport workers to and from work or between sites?
Click here for Public Health England guidance related to the use of private cars and car pooling. In summary the guidance states:
- If workers have to share enclosed spaces such as the cabs of vehicles, they should keep the window open for ventilation and they should be careful to avoid touching their face at all times. On leaving the enclosed space, they should wash their hands with soap and water for 20 seconds or more or use hand sanitiser when they cannot wash their hands.
- When using a private vehicle to make a journey that is essential, cars should only be shared by members of the same household. Those who normally share a car with people who are not members of their own household for a journey that is essential, e.g. getting to work, should consider alternatives such as walking, cycling and public transport where you maintain a distance of two metres from others.
- If the journey is essential, such as travel to work, and there is no option but to share a car with people who are not part of the same household, journeys should be shared with the same individuals and with the minimum number of people at any one time.
- Good ventilation (i.e. keeping the windows open) and facing away from each other may help to reduce the risk of transmission. Private vehicles that are used by people from multiple households should be cleaned regularly using gloves and standard cleaning products with particular emphasis on handles and other areas where passengers may touch surfaces.
The NFU has worked alongside other stakeholders to produce a best practice PHE guide which includes advice on transporting workers to and from sites. Although the guide is aimed primarily at seasonal workers in the fruit and vegetable industry it has some good best practice advice which is applicable to workers in other sectors including poultry. Other restrictions and advice may apply in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Is there a test my staff can take to see if they have got COVID-19?
The government's coronavirus national testing programme has been expanded to include further categories of workers whose jobs are essential to the UK’s coronavirus response, including those involved in food production, processing, distribution, sale and delivery. The tests are only for those who are showing potential symptoms of coronavirus and are most effective when someone is tested during the first three days of infection. If you have symptoms, the advice is not to delay seeking a test. Further information including how to book a test and who is eligible can be found here.
Can the company I use for pest control still come on farm?
The current government position on travel for work purposes is that this is allowed, but only where you cannot work from home. Government recognises that it is important for business to carry on, that some people cannot work from home and that certain jobs require people to travel to, from and for their work. This would apply to pest controllers coming onto farm. The farmer and the tradesperson (in this case, the pest controller) coming onto farm should follow the government guidance regarding social distancing; ensuring they are well and have no coronavirus symptoms, however mild. They should not carry out work in any household which is isolating or where an individual is being shielded.
How can I achieve social distancing when receiving deliveries/facilitating collections on/off farm?
Ensure you maintain high standards of hygiene and that facilities are available for drivers to use, including handwashing and drying facilities. Only allow essential visitors on farm and ensure they are fully aware of your protocols and respect social distancing rules.
- The latest advice from the government on social distancing in the workplace for outdoor businesses which includes farms is available here.
This guidance includes advice on regular hand washing and what to do if keeping a 2m distance between workers is difficult. If it is difficult to follow social distancing guidelines in full in relation to a particular activity, you should consider whether that activity needs to continue for the business to continue to operate and if so, take all the mitigating actions possible to reduce the risk of transmission between staff.
The NFU together with the BVA and BCVA have compiled a briefing on coronavirus and on-farm social distancing, to protect yourself, your family and visitors to the farm and we are encouraging members to consider any additional measures they should implement as part of their general hygiene routine. If you do not already have one you could consider creating a checklist of key areas to keep clean such as door handles and gateposts and designate key tasks to individuals to complete so you know who is doing what and each area is covered adequately.
What is the current situation regarding on farm assurance schemes and APHA inspections and will membership of an assurance scheme be affected if I can’t have an inspection?
It is important to remember that while we face challenging and uncertain times, we must continue to meet the standards which we are proud to produce to. Now more than ever, it is critical to ensure the reputation of our industry is maintained. Therefore, while assurance schemes are suspending physical inspections in the usual manner for the health and safety of everyone, members must ensure they continue to meet the standards required.
Routine assessments were suspended on 23 March. Since then, RSPCA Assured have been working with their certification body, to write and test remote assessment protocols. These will be as similar to the physical on-site assessments as possible, to ensure continued certification for scheme members. They will also reduce the need to carry out numerous follow-up visits once the current situation improves. If you are due for an assessment now or in the near future, your assessor will contact you in advance to discuss how this will work and to ensure you are able to participate using one of the methods being offered. New applicants are being reviewed on a case-by-case basis and, wherever possible remote audits will be conducted. In-person assessments will still be carried out on farms where:
- incidents/complaints relating to animal welfare have been reported, or
- as part of any special measures agreed with the member.
Further updates directly from RSPCA Assured can be found here.
Red Tractor has temporarily suspended all physical inspections, across all schemes including the FSA and other enforcement bodies that Red Tractor have earned recognition arrangements with until further notice. This also includes unannounced audits.
Red Tractor has worked with certification bodies to develop and trial a new protocol for remote assessments. For further information, please click here to go to the Red Tractor website. In the coming weeks we will see this protocol being rolled out to members due an assessment and for new members who need to be assured to supply new customers.
This does not affect your annual membership renewal of your certificate. You should seek to renew your certificate as normal.
For further information, visit Red Tractor’s COVID-19 Hub.
For those opting to use the new Red Tractor portal, time will be given to upload documents and photos before the audit. For more information please see the Remote Assessment Guidance for Red Tractor Scheme members and the Farmer User Guide for the Red Tractor portal.
NSF have developed a system of working that is intended to keep members and assessors safe by delivering audits via a full livestream, real time, video audit. If your audit is due whilst we are under government social distancing measures, NSF will be contacting you to arrange the audit. This will be done by your auditor as normal. NSF will then send you a confirmation letter clearly stating how to prepare for the audit and what they will need to see. Should you have any queries or concerns please do not hesitate to contact NSF at: QWdyaWN1bHR1cmVAbnNmLm9yZw==
On 25 March the APHA ceased all routine on farm inspections to egg and poultry meat marketing premises until further notice. Inspections will continue where there is a major non-compliance, food fraud or welfare issues reported or where there is a need for disease investigations. APHA EMIs are planning to carry out remote audits for meat marketing and at the end of April and has indicated that they will be recommencing on farm visits for NCP official salmonella sampling from the 4 May for layers and breeders. They will be doing this while adhering to social distancing requirements. The APHA only have responsibility for sampling non-Lion Code flocks. The BEIC have Independent Control Body status, awarded to them by Defra, and are responsible for the NCP sampling of their own Lion-Code sites. Therefore, the APHA will only be sampling non-Lion, independent producers.
I’m concerned about the strength of my internet connection or I don’t have a suitable device to live stream, how will I complete this requirement of an audit?
Certification bodies will pick individual issues up on a case-by-case basis and we encourage you to discuss potential issues with your auditor at the earliest convenience when contacted to conduct an audit which may involve live streaming elements. If possible, you could test out your connection and/or device before the audit starts to try and alleviate any potential issues occurring during the audit.
I’m concerned about a reduced frequency of the postal service and whether my salmonella sample will reach the laboratory in time – what should I do?
There is some concern over salmonella testing, predominantly due to the disruption some are experiencing with the postal system.
We are also keeping in touch with key stakeholders regardng the capacity in laboratories. We are feeding in members’ concerns to Defra/APHA and the FSA on a weekly conference call and have been involved in creating a contingency plan which will include relevant trigger points for potential derogations. None of the trigger points have been met yet and therefore unless instructed to do anything different, salmonella testing should be carried out as normal.
We are now aware that the Royal Mail has stopped delivering post on a Saturday. It is therefore even more important to ensure that samples are taken and dispatched at the beginning of the week.
Our advice is to ensure that you have sufficient consumables on farm, to consider sampling early (but be mindful of how long the test is valid for) and if possible, consider hand delivering the sample to ensure delivery or if not practical send it by recorded delivery or courier and keep in touch with the laboratory.
I may not be able to get hold of my usual supply of egg packaging, what are the legal requirements for information to be printed on an egg pack?
(The information below is provided by way of guidance only. If you are unsure about the information which should be included on egg packaging, please seek professional advice).
Under the EU’s “Food Information to Consumers” Regulations, the mandatory information that applies to fresh shell eggs includes, the name of the food, the quantity of the food, the ‘use by’ date, any special storage conditions and the name and address of the food business operator.
The EU’s “Egg Marketing Standards” Regulations stipulate that labelling on the outer surface of packs containing Class A eggs must include, the packing centre code, the quality grading (‘Class A’ or ‘A’), the weight grading, date of minimum durability (best before date), an indication advising consumers to keep eggs chilled after purchase and the farming method. By way of derogation to stating the weight grading, where Class A eggs of different sizes are packed together in the same pack, the minimum net weight of the eggs shall be given in grams and the indication ‘Eggs of different sizes’ shall appear on the outer surface of the pack. In addition to this ‘The Eggs and Chicks (England) Regulations 2009’ requires the producer code to be explained on or inside packs.
Please be aware that only authorised packing centres are permitted to label eggs.
I am a Lion Code producer, has the requirement for the colour of the packaging I use changed?
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the announcement by some egg packaging manufacturers that they are to reduce the range of packaging colours, a derogation to the Lion Code of Practice (V7) regarding egg packaging colour requirement was put in place on the 8 April 2020. BEIC subscribers can obtain more information from the BEIC.
I am finding it difficult to obtain PPE including dust masks - what should I do?
PPE is scarce throughout the supply chain, with many vet practices and other industries being asked to divert disposable PPE to the NHS. If possible, ensure you maintain a dialogue with your usual supplier, planning ahead as to how long your current stocks are expected to last and if required seek an alternative supply.
The NFU is working with other industry stakeholders to monitor the supply of PPE to the food sector. We are also working with other stakeholders in liaising with government, to prioritise the availability of PPE to essential roles in the food sector, while recognising the vital need to protect front line workers in the NHS first. We are also supporting activity by government and industry to create a UK based PPE manufacturing capability.
For more detailed information on PPE including what you can do if your PPE stocks are running low and advice on how to avoid scammers selling uncertified PPE can be found here.
Is it ok for individuals to make their own dust masks if they are unable to obtain the required PPE?
Only CE certified PPE which complies with the appropriate regulations should be used. FFP2 and FFP3 masks have to conform to the British and European specification BS EN 149:2001+A1:2009. This specification is not normally freely available and would usually cost around £200 to purchase. However, due to the circumstances the specification is being made available for free and is available here.
Further information including requirements under health and safety legislation can be found here.
Is there a shortage of bedding/litter materials and what should I do about enrichment bales?
Concern is being expressed by some over bedding supplies going forward as a result of the majority of saw mills closing. We are speaking to the main suppliers to understand current stock levels and alternatives to shavings and are keeping Defra abreast of the situation.
Red Tractor have issued guidance in a FAQ document regarding enrichment bales. Maintaining dry, friable litter is key to bird health and welfare. If you can demonstrate that you have difficulties in accessing supplies of wood shavings for litter purposes, in order for you to utilise the bales that would otherwise have been used as enrichment, you will need to obtain a derogation for the bales requirement. In order to remain compliant, you must contact your certification body to request and register a derogation where needed, so that they can record and monitor the situation.
My local handy shop has closed and that’s where I usually pick up spare parts, are there any alternative stores open?
If your usual store for spare parts is no longer open it is worth checking to see if they are open on an online platform which will enable you to order what you need for delivery or collection at a click and collect point. If ordering online is not an option, you may need to explore other options like the larger stores of national chains such as Jewsons and Travis Perkins, who are open and operating a delivery service only for essential services from selected branches.
The inability to get hold of sufficient supplies and spares is a concern as it may lead to serious operational issues for some businesses. The lack of availability of sundry items may cause some businesses to grind to a halt and this isn’t just spare parts for existing businesses but also the necessary materials to complete the building of new poultry houses. It is important to make contingency plans as early on as possible if you find yourself in this situation.
I’m concerned that I may run out of something I need to carry out my day-to-day job. i.e. fuel, feed, veterinary supplies etc – what should I do?
Following ongoing dialogue with key stakeholders, the NFU is confident that there is an ample supply of fuel, feed and veterinary medicines as it stands. There are not currently any indications that supply chains in these areas are at risk of being kerbed or shortages created.
There may be items that you need that you haven’t got access to, usual ranges are being streamlined or stocks are running low such as packaging, equipment, fuel or feed. Where possible act as soon as possible, make a contingency plan and take stock of current levels of inputs and outputs which may be affected. Make contact with your usual supplier, establish lead times on the products you need and give plenty of notice for the items you may require. Try and keep in touch with your contact network including breed and feed reps and your packer/processor if you have one and flag any potential issues issues promptly. As witnessed over the past few weeks, stockpiling is not helpful and does not enable everyone fair access to products they require, causing unnecessary shortages for some. By not engaging in this behaviour, the supply chain will maintain resilient and adaptable, allowing flexibility in this ongoing situation.
With the drop in food service and wholesale requirements, could poultry products destined for this market be redirected to retail and what are retailers doing to support this?
The NFU is liaising closely with the supply chain to find workable solutions to the changing shifts in demand throughout the retail, food service and wholesale sectors and ensuring we are best positioned to support farmers who may be affected by implications of a changing customer base or dealing with a change in demand at processing sites. We are working to make sure where possible processors and food service businesses can access the value chain and keep product moving. This will help stabilise the market and help us all rise to the national challenge of feeding the nation through this crisis. The NFU has been leading many of these discussions directly with businesses and government at the most senior levels on behalf of the entire farming industry. Many retailers have adapted their supply chains to redirect volume which was otherwise destined for the food service or wholesale market. Retailers have worked with their suppliers and the NFU closely, enabling specifications to be adapted where needed and utilised tertiary brands to procure additional volume through.
We need to do all we can to make sure our products get to citizens, particularly citizens in need. Where there is a public procurement need, we want to make sure the Government knows where it can quickly get product to the vulnerable, using those supply chains most affected by the crisis. We aim to fill as many of those gaps as possible, keep our supply chains running and ensure disruption to consumers and farm businesses is minimised. It’s imperative to us that we do not allow this disruption to damage our capacity in the supply chain and our ability to recover on the other side of this crisis.
What are the changes to competition law?
With the government announcement of relaxing of competition laws for retailers during these exceptional circumstances, there is greater flexibility for retailers to share and pool resources, staff and information to ensure the maintenance of supply chains. Industry co-operation is essential to protect the supply of poultry products to the consumer and a widening of the temporary rules relaxation is being proposed to enable responsible and necessary collaborative action. We have to adapt and the entire NFU has galvanised around not just supporting members directly but making sure we do all we can to minimise disruption in the market and bridge the supply and demand gaps. Further information is available here.
Is there any financial support available for my business?
The Budget included a number of measures to support businesses with their response to the cost and cash flow pressures COVID-19 presents. This included expanded Business Rates Relief, a Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme for SMEs and a dedicated helpline for those who need a deferral period on their tax liabilities. The government has now made further announcements which expand on many of these budgetary announcements which include: government backed guaranteed loans, business rates relief and small business grants. Advice on government support for businesses and other financial measures can be found here.
On 27 April, the Chancellor announced that small businesses will benefit from a new fast-track finance scheme providing loans with a 100% government-backed guarantee for lenders. Further information on the Bounce Back Loan Scheme can be found here.
Can I furlough my workers part-time? For example, they usually work five days a week but I want to furlough them for two days and keep them in work for the remaining three days?
To be eligible for the grant which is being offered through the government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, when on furlough, an employee cannot undertake work for, or on behalf, of the organisation or any linked or associated organisation. This includes providing services or generating revenue. Employers are free to consider allocating any critical business tasks to staff that are not furloughed. While on furlough, the employee’s wage will be subject to usual income tax and other deductions. Further information on the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme can be found in a Q&A pulled together by the NFU here and directly from the government here.
Updated 1 May
Demand for poultry products
We have seen the demand for both poultry meat and eggs increase significantly at retail level with reports that demand for eggs at peak has been up by as much as 100% in some supermarkets. For context, Christmas peak for eggs is normally +40-50%. Some individual businesses supplying the retail sector have seen volume increases in excess of 300%. Eggs are versatile and nutritious making them a great source of protein for breakfast which more people are now eating at home rather than on the go. People are also looking for activities to keep themselves busy such as baking which has also contributed to the increase demand we have seen for eggs. The supply chain is working hard to get eggs from farms to supermarket shelves as quickly as possible but demand continues to be 20-35% above normal volumes for most retailers. However, the market for seconds (Class B egg) is poor as the demand in the processing sector has decreased.
Demand for poultry meat has reportedly been up nearly 75% in retail during the panic buying phase, which took place in the first few weeks of the crisis. However this has now returned to more normalised levels. There is ongoing concern around the food service sector where sales are effectively nil and also the wholesale sector where sales are in the region of 50% of pre-COVID-19 levels.
The NFU has been taking decisive action, leading talks with government and industry on how supply destined for the wholsesale sector can be diverted into retail. There are several obstacles in the way of simply moving product from one market to another including for example packaging, logistics and contractual agreements. While we’ve seen a collapse in demand from the food service sector, the retail demand for poultry products had initially more than made up for this. However, we are acutely aware that we are in a rapidly changing situation and businesses are facing a changing customer base. We are now experiencing the effects of this which will no doubt continue for weeks to come.
After initial reports of positive sales in the wholesale poultry meat sector these have been significantly affected since additional measures were brought in by the government in the latter part of March to contain the spread of COVID-19. Cutting up operations in this sector closed, partly as a result of staff shortages and partly due to a lack of demand following the closure of restaurants and butchers’ shops. This has impacted on the ‘independent’ processors who report sales down by 50% on pre-COVID-19 levels.
Processors in the wholesale poultry meat sector appear to be making good progress working through the glut of birds caused by the sudden collapse in the wholesale market from 24 March. The significant cancelling of day-old chick orders and the consequent reduction in chicks placed from 1 April will help ensure that they can keep on top of volumes going forward but the wholesale poultry meat sector is still in a very challenging place and will likely remain so with the continuation of lock-down. We are concerned of the ongoing financial impact on farm until day old chick numbers and placement dates return to normal.
There are additional concerns around the amount of product that has gone into cold stores and the impact this could have when eventually released on to the market. We are also concerned about surplus product in Europe and further afield looking for a home at a distressed price.
On a more positive note, traditional butchers and farm shops are widely reporting sales of poultry meat to be as good as Christmas week. While this is good and welcome news these outlets do only account for a small percentage of sales in this sector. We understand that McDonald’s are undertaking operational checks to establish when they can reopen restaurants again and KFC have already opened a small number of restaurants for delivery service only. Again, while this is encouraging it is mainly symbolic at present as it is not having a significant impact on demand.
We are working with members to establish the financial impact the collapse of the wholesale market is having on their business and we continue to highlight the key issues and concerns across the poultry sector to government.
Duck meat sector
We are aware of pressures in the duck meat sector as a result of the closure of the food service sector and the impact this is having on our members. We continue to monitor this situation closely and offer support to affected members.
Surplus eggs from the food service sector are being reallocated where possible into the retail sector but this has put availability of packaging under pressure. We may start to see a limited number of egg pack sizes in order to maximise production in the manufacturing process and we are talking to retailers about this potential change and ways changes such as this can be managed in order to cause minimal disruption to all concerned.
In response to sudden changes in food supply chains as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the FSA and Defra have agreed that in exceptional circumstances, where safety and authenticity are not compromised, local authority enforcement officers can give food businesses temporary flexibility on certain rules on food labelling. Therefore, updated guidance has been sent to Trading Standards allowing them to discuss with businesses where flexibilities might be allowed due to the COVID-19 situation and its impacts on the food supply chain. Any business needing help related to this matter is advised to discuss it with their Primary Authority or Trading Standards Officer.
Some of the largest concerns throughout the sector relate to the availability of labour. Not only on farm but throughout the supply chain including hatcheries, catchers, feed mills, processing and packing centres. Contingency plans are in place in businesses where a significant concern relates to the possibility of increasing numbers of staff self-isolating.
There was concern that if agricultural and horticultural workers were not classified as key workers then there may be further staff shortages due to, in some cases, existing staff needing to take care of child care requirements. The NFU engaged extensively with government on this to make the case for the inclusion of farmers within the key worker definition. Not only that but we also made it clear that those involved in the wider food production industry are also essential. On the 19 March the government confirmed that those involved in food production were included as key workers, meaning that they would be eligible for childcare support and this was welcome news.
We are aware that some staff members have been stopped by the police on their way to and from work. This is to ensure that people are only making essential journeys. A signed letter for all staff members on company headed paper explaining the reason they are a key worker should suffice in such situations.
For poultry meat processors the critical staff are the official veterinary surgeon (OVS) and Meat Hygiene Inspectors (MHIs), both supplied by the FSA. Some plants will have their own staff performing meat hygiene inspections (known as PIAs) but the role of OVS is unique. We have been involved in and continue to liaise with the FSA via conference call and have also fed in members’ concerns separately around staffing.
We have flagged that any impact on the ability to move birds off farm, be that catcher availability, transport or staff shortages in the processing plant i.e. issues outside of the farmers control, could all result in an increase in stocking density on farm. We have asked Defra for reassurance around enforcement if this situation came to pass.
There is some concern over the availability of catching staff but at present nothing significant to report in terms of impact and we are told that those responsible for catching teams are implementing contingencies. From a logistics point of view the availability of drivers is a concern however to date it has been reported that this is being mitigated by reduced demand from other sectors. As some workers find themselves out of regular or paid work this may be a source of labour but as far as possible, we would encourage members to ensure any temporary workers posses the necessary skills for the task in hand and that the credentials of any new employees are thoroughly checked before work is commenced. Any individual member queries regarding employment law should be directed to NFU CallFirst: 0370 845 8458.
Concerns have been raised over salmonella testing, predominantly due to disruption to the postal system and concerns about laboratory capacity. We have fed in members’ concerns to Defra/APHA and the FSA and have been involved in creating a contingency plan which includes relevant trigger points for potential derogations. None of the trigger points have been met yet and therefore unless instructed to do anything different, salmonella testing should be carried out as normal. This will remain under constant review and we continue to feed in to the government on a salmonella-specific working group call on a weekly basis.
Our advice is to ensure that you have sufficient consumables on farm, to consider sampling early (but be mindful of how long the test is valid for), test at the beginning of the week and consider hand delivering the sample to ensure delivery or, if not practical, keep in touch with the laboratory to confirm arrival of the sample.
We are aware of shortages of PPE, predominantly face masks, across many sectors of food and farming and continue to liaise with the Government to escalate critical shortages where appropriate. Members are also being represented on an industry-wide working group which is addressing concerns around PPE and a Q&A document has been produced to help provide further information including health and safety regulations and what to do if your stocks of PPE are running low. The Q&A document can be found here. If you are looking for an alternative supplier please be wary of online scams, purchasing substandard products or products with false certifications.
We are encouraging members to make and review their own contingency plans and ensure all staff members are aware of the protocols they should be following, particularly around personal and general hygiene and social distancing guidance. Operational considerations may include for example: how will essential tasks be completed if you experience staffing issues or family self-isolation is required? Is it possible to cross-train/re-allocate staff to ensure bird welfare is not compromised? Where will eggs be stored if reduced egg collections occur as a result of driver shortages? It is worth noting that the Lion Code have issued a derogation to the requirement for collecting eggs from farm every third working day. (Please note the Egg Marketing Regulation requirement for eggs to be collected, marked, graded and packed within 10 days of lay still applies).
Other considerations include
- Maintaining upmost biosecurity procedures.
- Avoiding all non-essential visitors to site.
- If visitors, deliveries and collections on farm must take place then avoid direct contact between personnel. Ensure hands are washed thoroughly before new entrants come onto the farm and use the correct PPE where necessary.
- Request prior notification from suppliers coming to farm where possible and ensure health status and farm protocol awareness.
- Ensure that all surfaces that may be shared by entrants onto the farm are cleaned before and after use to prevent spread of the virus and follow government advice on how best to do this.
- Be even more cautious about communal areas and toilets for farm staff. Ensure hand washing procedures are carried out as appropriate.
- Check your farm supplies that might come into short supply, such as dust masks and hand sanitiser and where possible make contingency arrangements for this.
- Read and check your contract and seek legal advice (or use the NFU checking service) to understand any implications of supply disruption.
- Engage with your packer/processor about potential issues which may crop up rather than hoping they won’t happen or ignoring potentially serious issues which may arise further down the line.
- Consider your inputs and outputs which may be affected, for example planning feed deliveries, ordering fuel and access to processing facilities etc.