Outbreaks at two large chicken processors have highlighted the vulnerabilities of the supply chain, with sites temporarily shut and thousands of birds culled.
About 300,000 birds intended for Banham Poultry, Norfolk, will be culled after 104 staff tested positive for Covid-19 and the site was partially shut.
NFU South East regional director, Gary Ford, said: “The priority has to be the health and safety of everyone working at Banham, taking the necessary steps to ensure this outbreak is rapidly brought under control and further transmission of the virus is prevented.”
He added a reduced capacity will have implications for the poultry farms who supply it.
As the birds are company owned, Banham Poultry will stand the cost of the cull as well as the loss of income.
NFU poultry board chairman Tom Wornham warned disruption in one part of the chain could have ‘an adverse effect’ on various other parts.
2 Sisters’ Coupar Angus site also culled 110,000 birds in its first week of suspended production before diverting birds in a major logistical effort to its wider UK network.
The site has since re-opened, installing individual pods on processing lines to keep work stations separate.
But Farmers Guardian understands hundreds of thousands more birds could be culled in the coming weeks.
British Poultry Council chief executive Richard Griffiths said: “Losing a large slaughterhouse will not only interrupt our national food supply, create shortages, and job losses at a time when we can least afford it, but also results in bird welfare challenges on a significant scale.
“We must ensure that poultry meat plants compromised by a Covid-19 outbreak are able to maintain throughput where possible, even if it means having skeleton staff onsite.”
BPC and NFU will continue to work with Defra and industry stakeholders to help alleviate concerns and ensure appropriate contingency plans are in place.