The food industry has called on the Government to help the food industry cope with the pressures of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

There has been a dramatic shift in demand for food products over the last couple of weeks. As people stock up and prepare to stay home, the demand for retail products from supermarkets has seen a 20-30% rise while orders from the out-of-home food service sector have had a huge drop-off, according to the British Meat Processors Association (BMPA).

However, the organisation has also said that not all food processing companies are able to simply divert capacity to increase supply to the supermarkets.

According to the BMPA read there are serious risks to the supply of imported goods that are used in domestic production. But perhaps the biggest threat is the impact of Covid-19 on the workforce.

Large processing operations are also vulnerable because Business Interruption Insurance protection does not cover losses or closure related to Covid-19, and Government support for business interruptions only relates to small businesses.  Indeed, in its latest statement this week, the Groceries Code Adjudicator could still not ‘offer a view as to whether current circumstances amount to force majeure.

“We now call on Government to put the measures in place that will enable food processors and manufacturers to maintain supplies to the British public.”

Nick Allen, CEO of the BMPA, said: “We believe it is essential that measures designed to protect businesses with fewer than 250 employees are extended to include large businesses operating in the strategically important food processing sector.

“We are also calling for sick pay for people off work with Covid 19 (voluntarily or medically) to be increased and refunded to all food companies regardless of size.”

Allen continued: “‘The sustained operation of the food industry is an essential service to the UK population and economy during this crisis. BMPA is working with farmers, retailers, Defra, the Food Standards Agency and organisations up and down the food supply chain to formulate a pragmatic approach to these challenges.

“We now call on Government to put the measures in place that will enable food processors and manufacturers to maintain supplies to the British public.”

Poultry industry

British Poultry Council, chief executive, Richard Griffiths, added: “We want to work closely with the Government in the coming days and months to consider measures to mitigate any impact on national food security and offset the risk of a supply chain disruption. In the last few days, we have seen the Government express its ‘confidence in the UK food supply chains’ and talk about ‘ensuring farm to food supplies’ for this country. Now is the time to put some of these promises into practice.

“We are delighted to hear the Treasury’s commitment ‘to do everything it can’ to mitigate the effect of the pandemic on the productive capacity of the economy and preserve employment capabilities for those who are healthy. The Government must recognise food as a special case and treat it as a national security issue.

“We urge the Government to recognise the role of those working in the food supply chain and extend the business rate holiday to them. We would also like to see introduction of tax breaks for parts of the supply chain that may face financial distress.

“It’s reassuring to see the Government’s recent steps for schools to look after children of key workers, such as NHS staff, while schools remain closed. We are calling on the Government to extend these provisions for children of those working in the food supply as they play a critical role in feeding this nation and ensuring food security.”