Further closures in meat processing plants cannot be ruled out, but extra measures by operators and co-operation with farmers will help keep shutdowns to a minimum, according to Nick Allen, chief executive of the British Meat Processors Association.
Mr Allen said as cases of coronavirus continued to rise again, it was ’inevitable’ that food plants will be increasingly challenged to keep operating.
“Whilst track and tracing is a good thing in helping to stop the spread of the virus, it will increase the pressure on plants as more people have to self-isolate," he said.
Plants have placed workers in strict bubbles so whole plants do not have to closure if a few workers test positive for Covid-19.
Mr Allen said he was encouraged Defra and other agencies were keen to keep the food supply chain working and did not see plant closures as the only way of tackling the virus. He added that keeping the chain intact will help avoid any damaging panic-buying by shoppers.
He urged farmers to keep in touch with meat plants and understand the changes that have been made.
“Plants need timely deliveries more than ever and to get what they are expecting," added Mr Allen.
"It is much harder to accommodate out-of-spec animals and late or early deliveries.”
Anticipating changes in the UK’s relationship with the EU is another key issue that the meat industry is having to cope with alongside coronavirus.
“There is a raft of issues that need sorting out, particularly around exporting to Europe after December 31,” said Mr Allen.
“We are talking to Government on an almost hourly basis to help resolve these issues and get the processes in place for a smooth transition.”
He added that the association’s members are seeking clarity as soon as possible on what changes to systems need to be made by the end of the year, but the continuing negotiations make practical dialogue with EU officials impossible.