Industry leaders call for farmers and food chain staff to be added to coronavirus ‘key workers’ list

Industry organisations, including the NPA and NFU, are calling on the Government to add farmers, farm workers and vets onto a list of ‘key workers’ able to send their children to school.

During the first ever NPA Pig Industry Group meeting, producers and representatives from across the allied industries identified potential staff shortages as the industry’s biggest concern with regards to the coronavirus crisis.

The impact of people being off work because of actual or suspected illness, allied with the advice that all family members should self-quarantine for 14 days where the virus is suspected, has already been keeping staff away from work. This will be compounded from Friday, when schools across the UK close their doors.

The Government has provisionally identified a list of key workers, including NHS staff, police and delivery drivers – but there is no mention of farmers or food chain workers at a time when ensuring food gets from farm to fork has never been more important, at least since the war.

The NPA is part of an industry working group, including the NFU, that is working to get farmers and people working across the supply chain, including on farms, in processing plants and in feed production, added to the list.

The NPA is also asking Government for full flexibility on minimum and maximum working hours and assistance in helping employers provide temporary staffing, for example workers from other sectors, asylum seekers, prisoners or ex-military personnel.

Other measures requested by the NPA include asking that Government allows COVID-19 testing kits to be used by farm workers who are in self-isolation so that those who are not infected can get back to their jobs as a priority.

And in the event of reduced capacity at abattoirs, the association would like to see regulations around journey times within the UK  relaxed to allow pigs off farm and to slaughter during this period of crisis.

‘We need staff’

“In order to allow pigs to be looked after on farm, taken to abattoirs, or processed, we need staff,” NPA chairman Richard Lister said.

“Agriculture and food production are critical to the country. Other EU member states, for instance the Netherlands, have declared food production as a priority industry.

“In Italy, where movement of people is now licensed, those working in food production are entitled to a licence in order to be able to continue to work. The NPA is pushing Government for food production to be considered a priority industry.”

Commenting on Twitter, NFU president Minette Batters said she was working on getting getting food and farming on the key workers list.

“So far I’m really pleased with how government is engaging on this critical issue,” she said

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Editor of LBM titles Pig World and Farm Business and group editor of Agronomist and Arable Farmer. National Pig Association's webmaster. Previously political editor at Farmers Guardian for many years and also worked Farmers Weekly. Occasional farming media pundit. Brought up on a Leicestershire farm, now work from a shed in the garden in Oxfordshire. Big fan of Leicester City and Leicester Tigers. Occasional cricketer.