Comment: Our key workers are feeding this nation

By Shraddha Kaul, director of external affairs, British Poultry Council

The coronavirus pandemic is posing 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.

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 could potentially disrupt our supply chains.

As the nation adjusts to life under lockdown, its vital that Government reinforces the critical role of poultry meat workers in keeping the food chain moving and encourage healthy key workers to go to work.
Everyone working in the British poultry meat supply chain is feeding this nation and supporting the heroes of the NHS on the frontline. We want the Government to do everything it can to bring clarity in its communications and ensure our healthy key workers aren’t discouraged from going to work. We cannot run the risk of interrupting food production, resulting in limiting the nation’s food supply.

Government’s recent text messages and speeches advising everyone to stay at home has left key workers in poultry meat production confused about whether or not they can go to work. This is causing chaos for poultry meat businesses that are doing everything they can to offset the risk of a supply chain disruption and ensure that shelves are stocked, and the vulnerable groups have access to food.

Government must reinforce the critical role of key workers in keeping the nation fed and reiterate that food producers are exempt from the ‘stay at home’ rules in its communications. Government must encourage all healthy key workers working in the poultry meat supply chain to go to work and remove any barriers, including police checks, for those who are certified as a key worker by their employer.

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 supply is prioritised during these extraordinary times. Our key workers must be supported and celebrated as they continue doing this crucial job.

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