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Birds culled as UK forced to close plants due to Covid-19

In the past weeks, 100,000+ birds on 2 UK farms were culled due to closures of processing plants because of Covid-19 outbreaks among factory workers.

The lack of spare capacity in the UK’s efficiently-run industry means that many more birds will be slaughtered if further plants are forced to suspend work.

Richard Griffiths, chief executive officer of the British Poultry Council, voiced his concerns about potential supply shortages as well as bird welfare failures. “Outbreaks at meat plants demonstrate that no amount of preparation and vigilance can guarantee complete protection against Covid-19. We have to prioritise the health of people in our community, but we must also safeguard food supply and the welfare of our animals.

Over the past few weeks, more than 100,000 birds on 2 UK farms have been culled due to closures of processing plants because of Covid-19 outbreaks among factory workers. Photo: ANP/Vincent Jannink
Over the past few weeks, more than 100,000 birds on 2 UK farms have been culled due to closures of processing plants because of Covid-19 outbreaks among factory workers. Photo: ANP/Vincent Jannink

As an efficient sector, there is very little spare capacity should one of those large slaughterhouses be forced to cease operations,” Griffiths told industry sources.

New outbreaks continue

He was speaking as Banham Poultry, near Attenborough, Norfolk, England, became the latest processing plant to see workers test positive for Covid-19. Figures released over the weekend suggested that 80 employees had tested positive for the virus, in what was described as a “significant outbreak.” All those who tested positive worked in the cutting room, which has now closed with 350 staff told to self-isolate. However, parts of the plant are still open.

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The company, which supplies chicken products to a range of supermarkets, accounts for 7% of UK poultry processing and in 2018 1 million birds a week went through its factory. Mr Griffiths has appealed to the UK’s Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), asking for support to keep plants open during Covid-19 outbreaks. “We need (Defra’s) support for a presumption to keep operating in these situations, rather than closing. Where possible we have to maintain throughput, even if it means having skeleton staff on site,” he added.

Defra said it was closely monitoring the impact of Covid-19 outbreaks within the food industry, including at poultry processing plants to “ensure we are fully aware of the scale and risk of any closure.” Defra added that it did not anticipate any food shortages as a result of factory closures.