The British Egg Industry Council (BEIC) has called for the UK Government to classify food production staff as a priority group for the second phase of vaccination rollout.
BEIC argues that workers should be vaccinated early to ensure the industry has the resources to maintain a consistent supply of food. Mark Williams, BEIC chief executive, said: “While we all recognise the fantastic and vital role that shopworkers have played throughout the pandemic, without food production workers, who are an indispensable component in getting food from our farmers onto the plates of consumers, there would be nothing to fill the shelves.”
Due to the strict hygiene controls and highly sensitive environment in which food production and processing take place, if there is an outbreak of the virus it will severely impact the food production chain. In addition, the egg industry has extremely high standards of animal welfare, something which is maintained through expertly trained staff. The self-isolation of entire teams can be acutely felt, due to the pressure on the supply of labour as a result of Brexit, compounded by the travel restrictions that are in place to control the pandemic, the BEIC says.
The vaccination rollout has so far been a success in the UK and the BEIC believes it is now vital the Government ensures that those who work in agriculture are added to the vaccine priority list. The food industry is the largest component of the UK’s manufacturing sector, and the British egg industry alone is worth more than £1bn a year to the UK economy. The sector’s comments come as UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock and Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi are calling for a national debate on who should be prioritised for early vaccination.
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Meanwhile, retails sales of eggs grew by 18.4% last year in the UK – the equivalent of 1.2 bn extra eggs being consumed. This has promoted British Lion eggs to launch a £1.3m campaign for 2021 to drive awareness of the Lion mark and capitalise on the unprecedented consumer demands for retail eggs. In its quarterly statistics, Defra confirmed the ongoing rise in egg sales, saying 8m cases of eggs were packed in UK egg packing stations during the fourth quarter of 2020, representing a 2.3% increase on last year. Egg prices increased to 81.7p per dozen – 12% higher than the corresponding quarter in 2019.
Andrew Joret, British Egg Industry Council chairman, said: “White retail sales have been on the up for more than a decade, last year we witnessed an incredible increase in egg sales, due to lockdown. “Conversely, there have been huge challenges for hospitality as a result of lockdown, but we are optimistic the sector will start to recover when lockdown eases and our marketing programme will highlight the benefits of British Lion eggs and encourage increase usage.”