A triple whammy of Covid-19, Brexit, and avian influenza affected the UK’s poultry meat industry in the past year.
Graeme Dear, British Poultry Council chair and former Aviagen general manager, said poultry meat plants had remained opened whenever possible and workers were now seen as critical for the food sector. Despite a shortage of PPE and masks in the first lockdown, the industry had introduced new procedures rapidly. While food service and wholesale markets had been in turmoil at this stage, lessons were learnt which meant the sector was better prepared for the second wave and subsequent lockdowns. Contingency planning and better leadership, coupled with enhanced test and trace, led to greater resilience in the sector for the most recent lockdown phase.
Speaking at the virtual Northern Broiler Conference, Mr Dear said he expected the sector to come under greater scrutiny in the short term, adding that the resilience would need to continue. Commenting on the Brexit deal, he said the industry had left Europe with no tariffs or quotas on British exports or EU imports but there were still issues around perishable products, affecting both the poultry and pork sectors. Delays at borders were leading to more paperwork at UK, Irish, French, and Dutch ports and Mr Dear added that unless this red tape and bureaucracy was overcome, it could have catastrophic implications for the British food sector. The EU’s 6-month grace period meant it was important to iron out issues by the end of June.
Covid-19: Impact on the global poultry sector
The coronavirus has had a huge impact on daily life from the man on the street to businesses. And the poultry sector, even more essential than ever, has not gone unscathed. Keep up-to-date.
Commenting on the avian influenza outbreaks this winter, Mr Dear said the introduction of the Avian Influenza Protection Zone in November, alongside strict biosecurity measures, appeared to be working, but recent outbreaks meant ongoing watchfulness was vital. Looking ahead, Mr Dear expected to see a national recovery in the UK’s business fortunes in 2021 as the vaccination was rolled out. The poultry industry would play its part and would continue to flourish amid changing retail buying pattern shifts.
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John Vincent, Cobb Europe director of business development, said the industry post-Brexit was very keen to ensure there was no lowering of animal health standards as part of ongoing trading with the European Union. “Nobody wants to see or have lower animal health.” Mr Vincent added that he hoped the roll out of the vaccine would allow the UK poultry meat sector to return to a more normal life even if it was now operating outside of the EU.