To those working in businesses across the meat industry in England
In these unprecedented times, we want to thank you all for working with the Food Standards Agency (FSA) to enable your meat processing and our meat inspection to continue in businesses up and down the country in the most challenging of circumstances.
The importance of the meat sector to the food supply chain has never been more apparent, and the vital role of those working in it has never been more evident.
We are hugely grateful for the co-operation from industry and individual businesses we have had in responding to the COVID-19 outbreak and this collaboration will be even more important in the coming weeks and months.
We want to set out the steps that the FSA has taken so far to protect consumer interests and animal welfare whilst supporting businesses to produce safe food.
Early and ongoing engagement with industry
Following the first COVID-19 planning summit with key industry bodies on 12 March, the FSA has been leading the ongoing co-ordination and engagement with industry and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs while subsequent high-level meetings have also been led by CEO Emily Miles.
Further engagement across the industry with key players will continue on a daily basis to address emerging issues and to ensure a consistent approach across the country. The FSA will also be leading the next industry summit on 7 April.
We have also published guidance for food businesses on COVID-19 as well as more specific advice for the meat industry in the letter of 25 March.
Being ready to provide the controls but with significant staff absence
Working with industry, we have already implemented a number of measures to minimise the impact on businesses which were outlined in a letter to businesses on 31 March. These follow clear principles to ensure they are temporary, are applied as consistently as possible, and will continue to protect food safety and animal welfare. They include:
- Prioritising our activity: including deferring scheduled audits for sites with higher audit outcomes (good and generally satisfactory) until the end of June to maximise resources.
- Using existing legislation to support a reduced FSA workforce: these include using other qualified individuals to carry out roles and extending some inspection deadlines to maximise resources. We have also identified authorised FSA staff who are able to return to the front line as well staff who can be redirected from other Government agencies, such the Animal and Plant Health Agency.
- Assessing additional measures under temporary legislation: last week, the European Commission brought out new regulations which will allow us to be even more flexible about the way the FSA operates controls. We are currently developing proposals to take advantage of these flexibilities, should they be required.
We also wish to express my gratitude to those meat businesses that have risen to the significant challenge that social distancing presents at their sites, and who have been looking after the health and safety of the FSA workforce who are there.
There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution to this problem and we know each and every site will face different issues in how they implement these measures. We continue to work with sites to assist them to deliver these arrangements in the most practical way possible, to allow your staff and our staff to maintain food production and meat inspection at their premises.
These will continue to be challenging times for all staff working in the meat industry and our local Field Managers are always available for further discussion to ensure we meet the needs of businesses at this time.
We would like to thank the industry for the many acts of great co-operation so far in responding to this challenge.
Dr Colin Sullivan, COVID-19 Incident Director
Martin Evans, Acting Chief Operating Officer