Coronavirus and the poultry sector

Poultryhereforyou_44880

NFU Cymru's policy and commodity advisers are working to provide up to date advice on the issues impacting the poultry sector as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. This page will be updated as and when information is available.

Updated: 12th May 

Poultry Highlights

The latest edition of the Poultry Highlights newsletter went out this morning (12th May) and contains coverage of the Covid-19 related work, the latest blog from Tom on retailer commitments, a consultation on plastic packaging tax plus much more. The newsletter can be accessed here. It shows who are the members of the 2020 Poultry Board including NFU Cymru Poultry Chai Richard Williams from Monmouth. They are meeting this week by the Teams link

Agriculture Bill

The Agriculture Bill is the most important piece of legislation to come before Parliament for UK farming for many decades and it is now scheduled to have its ‘Report Stage’ in the House of Commons tomorrow  (Wednesday 13th May). There are five key NFU asks of the Agriculture Bill's Report Stage, click here to read them. Parts of the Bill will be relevant in Wales but Welsh Government will be bringing its own Bill forward in due course.

Covid-19 update

The main member briefing which includes impacts of Covid-19 on the poultry sector and a list of FAQs can be found here. Main updates since last week include:

Egg sector: The demand for eggs at retail is still unprecedented with reports of many retailers being 20-30% above normal volumes and struggling with availability to keep shelves stocked. On top of the significant demand at retail due to people eating at home and increased activities involving eggs such as baking, we are also aware of increased farm gate sales putting additional pressure on supply to retail and circa. 2-3 million birds depopulated earlier than planned at the beginning of this year due to LPAI (non-notifiable strain). The continuation in significant demand and shortage in availability of British egg has meant some sourcing of non-Lion egg has already been seen at retail level. To date only Lidl have moved away (temporarily) from their British commitment on shell egg to supplement their offering with one line of Dutch white colony cage eggs. NFU board chair, Thomas Wornham has sent a letter to Lidl and his blog online outlines the reasons for availability issues. We are also working on a public facing market analysis briefing to give some context to the situation.

Poultry meat sector: The independent poultry meat sector, which accounts for around 20% (or 4.0m birds) of weekly broiler throughput, continues to be in a challenging position as a result of the ongoing collapse in demand from the wholesale market. The situation was triggered by the lock down measures implemented on 24 March which saw restaurants and many other businesses close. As a result, processors in this sector reduced day old chick numbers – a situation that continues now – as well as delaying day old chick placement.  These actions will have a significant impact on grower margins. We are currently collating data around this to be better understand the impact and will be sharing that with Defra and stakeholders, including the processors, once the work is complete.  

PPE- Q&A and NFU survey on supply shortages

We are continuing to feed in to Defra regarding shortages of PPE, particularly FFP2 and FFP3 masks and have been made aware of their escalation process for those with a critically low supply. We have also compiled a Q&A document on PPE which includes information on health and safety legislation, what to do if you are running low of supply and alternative suppliers. We are warning members about potential online scams and the briefing contains advice on what to look out for in terms of certification marks etc. The briefing can be found here.

The NFU wants to better understand disruption to the usual supply of face masks and other PPE in agriculture and is asking members to complete an online survey. Since March 2020, the supply of PPE including FFP2 and FFP3 respiratory face masks has been disrupted because of interruptions to manufacturing across the world and because of a huge increase in demand from the health sector to protect care workers. The information provided through this survey will be used to help the NFU gauge the level of disruption in supply to agriculture as a whole and which sectors are affected the most.

Biosecurity in the poultry sector- survey open until the 17th May

Aimee Mahony our popular Poultry Adviser in Stoneleigh is completing an MSc in intensive livestock health and production and for her final thesis is conducting a survey looking at the perceptions of poultry keepers towards biosecurity. Anyone who owns or looks after poultry (of any species or scale - whether it’s one chicken in the garden or a million birds in a commercial business) can complete the survey so please feel free to promote the survey link (https://wh1.snapsurveys.com/s.asp?k=158697590905 ) where appropriate. It will be beneficial to get a good number of respondents as the results could also help inform future policy work regarding biosecurity and notifiable disease, notably avian influenza. The link is only open for a very short window and your completion of it would be much appreciated by Aimee.

Updated: 5th May 

Lidl have started to sell Dutch shell eggs (white cage eggs) in their UK stores and NFU have followed this up with them in order to gain a better understanding of the situation. Chairman of National Poultry Board is going to write an open article (which we will publish online) and we will also be writing a letter to Lidl to outline our ask for them to return to their British sourcing policy for eggs as soon as it is possible.

Avara Foods have proposed the closure of their duck business, currently operating out of Caistor in Lincolnshire. The business is set to enter a consultation period to determine the next steps and timescales. In a news release Avara commented: ‘Despite significant investment in the duck business, external market conditions have become increasingly challenging with feed costs, feather pricing and European competition all combining to put the business under immense pressure. While not causes in themselves, recent developments with Brexit and COVID-19 have exacerbated the situation, particularly the significant drop in sales volumes as a result of catering and food service closures.’ NFU have produced an impact assessment brief which shows the UK duck sector is worth around £45m/annum with 27,300 tonnes produced in the year to March 2020 (this is down 8.0% on the previous year).  

PPE: We are continuing to feed in to Defra regarding shortages of PPE, particularly FFP2 and FFP3 masks and have been made aware of their escalation process for those with a critically low supply. We have also been working with Tom Price (NFU Farm Safety and Transport Adviser) to compile a Q&A document on PPE which includes information on health and safety legislation, what to do if you are running low of supply and alternative suppliers. We are also warning members about potential online scams and the briefing contains advice on what to look out for in terms of certification marks etc. The briefing can be found here.

Shared transport: PHE guidance on shared transport is now available online and is signposted to in our FAQ document which can be found here. Although the guidance is aimed at fruit and vegetable workers it can be applied across other sectors and is useful for those who may be using minibuses to transport workers to and from work and/or between sites.

Salmonella testing: We are aware that Royal Mail will no longer be delivering on Saturdays and we were already seeing delays in the postal system. This is having an effect on salmonella samples reaching the lab within the required time. We are advising members to send samples in at the beginning of the week, plan ahead allowing extra time for resampling if needed and if possible, send by courier or deliver to the laboratory by hand. Further guidance can be found here.

The APHA will recommence on-farm visits from 4th May to conduct the official salmonella sample on layer and breeder farms as part of the NCP. They will be adhering to social distancing guidelines. The APHA only have responsibility for sampling non-Lion Code flocks. The BEIC have Independent Control Body status, awarded to them by Defra, and are responsible for the NCP sampling of their own Lion-Code sites. Therefore, the APHA will only be sampling non-Lion, independent producers. 

Demand in the egg sector: The demand for eggs at retail is still unprecedented with reports of many retailers being 20-30% above normal volumes, Tesco reported last Friday that egg sales volume in store were +30% up on normal. We are aware of increased farm gate sales with some reporting 300%+ sales through vending machines. Whilst attractive prices typically gained from farm gate sales will be appealing, the more egg that is sold this way the more the tightness of supply in to retail is accentuated. Egg price increases for producers which have been announced by some of the packers over recent weeks will come under pressure if we see this level of farm gate sales continue. The market for seconds is still poor as demand has reduced in the processing sector. It is understood that prices are starting to increase slightly again after a month of poor prices.

Poultry meat sector: Prices in the wholesale sector are very low - £1.20/kg oven ready (‘if lucky’) are being reported when the typical market price would be around £1.40/kg. Polish breast fillet reported to be a staggering £1.50/kg – UK cost of production around £2.00/kg. The ongoing Ramadan festival is having the usual (at this stage) negative impact on sales. On Friday last week Tesco reported their sales of poultry meat are still strong at around +25% up on normal. ASDA reported poultry meat sales at +30% driven by whole birds and breaded sales. Going forward the weather and demand for BBQs will be one of the key drivers for demand.

Fast food restaurant chains: Colleagues in the food chain team have had a number of conversations with McDonalds around their plans for restaurant re-opening. We have a follow up sector meeting with them on 12 May. It was reported by the BBC on Sunday (3rd) that McDonald's plans to reopen 15 outlets in the UK for delivery only services on 13 May and it is believed that KFC are planning to re-open more restaurants by the end of May. NFU have written to KFC’s Supply Chain Director for the UK for an update. Clearly the restaurants re-opening, particularly the fast food chains, are a key part of the Covid-19 exit strategy for the poultry sector.

Remote Inspections Red tractor an RSPCA remote inspections are now happening in the meat sector and please feedback your experiences of them.

Updated: 17th April 

Red Tractor Audits 

Red Tractor has issued guiadance on remote assessments for the dairy, pigs, poultry meat and crops sectors here in Wales. You can view it here.

PLEASE NOTE: This guidance DOES NOT cover the beef and sheep sectors here in Wales as they are carried out by FAWL.

Updated: 15th April 

NFU Cymru members can log in and view a Q&A here for more information about Coronavirus and the polutry sector.

Updated 31 March
Key areas of concern for the poultry sector continue to centre around labour availability throughout the supply chain, packaging, operation levels of processing/packing centres, utilisation of available products including routes to market and salmonella sampling. 

Over the past 24-48 hours new and emerging issues have come to the forefront, predominantly concerns over the availability of equipment including spare parts. These concerns are in part due to usual outlets including small handy stores closing their doors. It is important for members to have an ongoing dialogue with their suppliers for any inputs they require including shavings, fuel and gas and plan for potential changes to their usual supply. Contingencies should be reviewed, particularly if the case arises where a delivery cannot be made in the usual timeframe. However, bulk buying or forward purchasing should be discouraged unless it is an essential purchase. 

The inability to get hold of sufficient supplies and spares is a growing concern and may lead to serious operational issues in some businesses. The lack of availability of sundry items may cause some businesses to grind to a halt and this isn’t just spare parts for existing businesses but also the necessary materials to complete the building of new poultry houses. As a result, we may see new builds not being completed on time and if birds are already in rear for example then this will have knock on effects throughout the supply chain. 

Demand for poultry products

We have seen the demand for both poultry meat and eggs increase significantly at retail level with reports that demand for eggs is up by as much as 100% in some supermarkets and for context Christmas peak for eggs is normally +40-50%. Some individual businesses supplying the retail sector have seen volume increases in excess of 300%. Demand for poultry meat has reportedly been up nearly 75%; there is however some significant fall off in demand in the food service sector where events have been cancelled, restaurants are closed and people are not staying in hotels etc.  

NFU Cymru has been taking decisive action, leading talks with government and industry on how we can divert supply destined for food service into retail. There are several obstacles in the way of simply moving product from one market to another including for example packaging, logistics and contractual agreements. Whilst we’ve seen steep downfall in demand from the food service sector, the retail demand for poultry products has more than made up for this over the last week or so. However, we are acutely aware that we are in a rapidly changing situation and businesses will be facing a changing customer base; we are now experiencing the effects of this and no doubt this will continue over the following days. 

Wholesale market 

After initial reports of positive sales in the wholesale poultry meat sector these have been significantly affected since additional measures were brought in by the government early last week (23 March) to contain the spread of COVID-19. Cutting up operations in this sector have closed partly as a result of staff shortages and partly due to a lack of demand following the closure of restaurants and butchers’ shops. This has impacted on the ‘independent’ processors who report sales down by 50% on pre-COVID-19 levels. We are concerned of the impact on farm unless the processors in this sector take birds from farm as per their agreement. 

It is possible that some of these surplus birds can be redirected into retail, given a shortage in that sector at present. Additionally, although not the norm, other businesses may also be able to establish if they can help take some of the volume given the difficult situation. 

In response, the number of chicks being ordered is being cut back quite significantly due to a lack of confidence in the sector however the impact of this will not be seen until the second half of May – the problem is more immediate than that.  

Some positive news is that traditional butchers and farm shops are widely reporting sales of poultry meat to be as good as Christmas week. Whilst this is good and welcome news these outlets only account for a small % of sales in this sector. 

Packaging

Surplus eggs from the food service sector are being reallocated where possible into the retail sector but this is putting availability of packaging under pressure. It is likely we will start to see a limited number of egg pack sizes in order to maximise production in the manufacturing process and we have already started to talk to retailers about this potential change and ways changes such as this can be managed in order to cause minimal disruption to all concerned. 

Labour

Some of the largest concerns throughout the sector relate to the availability of labour. Not only on farm but throughout the supply chain including hatcheries, catchers, feed mills, processing and packing centres. Contingency planning is underway in businesses where a significant concern relates to the possibility of increasing numbers of staff self-isolating.  

There was concern that if agricultural and horticultural workers were not classified as key workers then there may be further staff shortages due to, in some cases, existing staff needing to take care of child care requirements. The NFU and NFU Cymru engaged extensively with government on this to make the case for the inclusion of farmers within the key worker definition. Not only that but we also made it clear that those involved in the wider food production industry are also essential. On the 19 March the government confirmed that those involved in food production were included as key workers, meaning that they would be eligible for childcare support and this was welcome news. 

The NFU and NFU Cymru is now working to seek clarity around the status of personnel connected directly with the food and farming supply chain and those providing supporting functions such as maintenance, consultancy and inputs, without which production would be jeopardised.  

We are aware that some staff members are being stopped by the police on their way to and from work. This is to ensure that people are only making essential journeys. A signed letter for all staff members on company headed paper explaining the reason they are a key worker should suffice in such situations. 

For poultry meat processors the critical staff are the official veterinary surgeon (OVS) and Meat Hygiene Inspectors (MHIs), both supplied by the FSA. Some plants will have their own staff performing meat hygiene inspections (known as PIAs) but the role of OVS is unique. We have been involved in and continue to liaise with the FSA via conference call and have also fed in members’ concerns separately around staffing.  

We have flagged that any impact on the ability to move birds off farm, be that catcher availability, transport or staff shortages in the processing plant i.e. issues outside of the farmers control, could all result in an increase in stocking density on farm. We have asked Defra for reassurance around enforcement if this situation came to pass.  

There is some concern over the availability of catching staff but at present nothing significant to report in terms of impact and we are told that those responsible for catching teams are implementing contingencies. From a logistics point of view the availability of drivers is a concern however to date it has been reported that this is being mitigated by reduced demand from other sectors. As some workers find themselves out of regular or paid work this may be a source of labour but as far as possible, we would encourage members to ensure any temporary workers posses the necessary skills for the task in hand and that the credentials of any new employees are thoroughly checked before work is commenced. Any individual member queries regarding employment law should be directed to NFU CallFirst: 0370 845 8458. 

Salmonella testing

There is some concern over salmonella testing, predominantly if we see disruption to vital infrastructure such as the postal system and/or laboratory capacity. We have fed in members’ concerns to Defra/APHA and the FSA and have been involved in creating a contingency plan which will include relevant trigger points for potential derogations. None of the trigger points have been met yet and therefore unless instructed to do anything different, salmonella testing should be carried out as normal. This will remain under constant review and we will be feeding in to the government on a salmonella-specific working group call on a weekly basis. 

Our advice is to ensure that you have sufficient consumables on farm, to consider sampling early (but be mindful of how long the test is valid for) and consider hand delivering the sample to ensure delivery or if not practical, keep in touch with the laboratory. 

Contingency planning

We are encouraging members to make and review their own contingency plans and ensure all staff members are aware of the protocols they should be following, particularly around personal and general hygiene and social distancing guidance. Operational considerations may include for example: how will essential tasks be completed if you experience staffing issues or family self-isolation is required? Is it possible to cross-train/re-allocate staff to ensure bird welfare is not compromised? Where will eggs be stored if reduced egg collections occur as a result of driver shortages? It is worth noting that the Lion Code have issued a derogation to the requirement for collecting eggs from farm every third working day. (Please note the Egg Marketing Regulation requirement for eggs to be collected, marked, graded and packed within 10 days of lay still applies). 

Other considerations include:

  • Maintaining upmost biosecurity procedures. 
  • Avoiding all non-essential visitors to site. 
  • If visitors, deliveries and collections on farm must take place then avoid direct contact between personnel. Ensure hands are washed thoroughly before new entrants come onto the farm and use the correct PPE where necessary.  
  • Request prior notification from suppliers coming to farm where possible and ensure health status and farm protocol awareness.  
  • Ensure that all surfaces that may be shared by entrants onto the farm are cleaned before and after use to prevent spread of the virus and follow government advice on how best to do this. 
  • Be even more cautious about communal areas and toilets for farm staff. Ensure hand washing procedures are carried out as appropriate.  
  • Check your farm supplies that might come into short supply, such as dust masks and hand sanitiser and where possible make contingency arrangements for this. 
  • Read and check your contract and seek legal advice (or use the NFU checking service) to understand any implications of supply disruption. 
  • Engage with your packer/processor about potential issues which may crop up rather than hoping they won’t happen or ignoring potentially serious issues which may arise further down the line. 
  • Consider your inputs and outputs which may be affected, for example planning feed deliveries, ordering fuel and access to processing facilities etc. 

Last edited: 14:44 on 12 May 2020

Share this story:


© NFU Cymru 2021