Demand for cheaply produced food in the UK could be fuelling the spread of Covid-19, according to World Health Organisation special envoy David Nabarro.
Nabarro, commenting to the Guardian newspaper in his capacity as a professor at University College London’s Institute for Global Health, said cramped conditions in some plants as well as in employees’ homes, spurred by the UK’s drive for cheaply produced foods could be the reason for the rise in infection rates.
“It may well be that in keeping production costs down, we end up with a situation where the people who work in food processing are under very, very tough working conditions and are paid relatively small amounts of money compared with other roles. “So, one could argue that this is not so much structural issues in society as a consequence of the perpetual pressure to get quality of food up and prices down. And so a part of this may require thinking carefully about how much to pay for particular kinds of food.”
Figures compiled by the paper show that more than 1,450 cases of Covid-19 are linked to food factories across England, Scotland and Wales. The most recent plants to close because of Covid-19 in the UK have been the 2 Sisters Food Group poultry processing plant at Coupar Angus, Scotland, which employs around 1,000 staff, and the Greencore sandwich-making plant at Northampton, England, which supplies Marks and Spencer, Waitrose, Sainsbury’s and Tesco.
Our priority remains the safety and wellbeing of all colleagues, and we will be reviewing the situation closely…” – 2 Sisters spokesman
The Coupar Angus closure follows a major outbreak at another 2 Sisters site on Anglesey, Wales, in June, which led to more than 220 confirmed cases. Closing the Couper Angus site was “the responsible action to take”, according to a s 2 Sisters spokesman. “Our priority remains the safety and wellbeing of all colleagues, and we will be reviewing the situation closely in partnership with the relevant regional and national Covid-19 taskforces before we restart production. The facility had previously operated for 6 months without a single positive Covid-19 case recorded.”
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Greencore said last week that nearly 300 works at the Northampton factory had tested positive. It is the company’s largest plant, employing 2,100 of its 11,000 staff. Meanwhile, Cranswick Country Foods, near Ballymena, Northern Ireland, also closed last week for a deep clean after a virus cluster was discovered among 35 workers at the pig meat processing plant. The factory employs 500 staff.