Dovecote Park beef meat locker

The conference was due to explore the science behind livestock-related climate change

The British Meat Processors Association has responded to the worsening coronavirus crisis by postponing a major conference set to take place next week.

The industry body’s Rethink conference was due to explore the science behind livestock-related climate change and how the meat sector can tackle misinformation on the topic. Delegates were expected to attend the event – which was due to take place in London on 17 March – from across the world.

But due to the “magnitude of the unanticipated public health and safety issues posed by the escalating Covid-19 outbreaks and contagion”, and a “significant” number of attendee cancellations, the BMPA said it had taken the decision to shelve the event.

The move follows an escalation of the government’s response to the crisis yesterday, including new measures advising the public to self-isolate for at least a week if they show symptoms of even a mild upper respiratory tract infection, cough or fever. Ten people in the UK have so far died from Covid-19.

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The BMPA’s members were now actively imposing measures to mitigate the effects of the outbreak, said CEO Nick Allen. These included staff travel bans and even restrictions on allowing lorry drivers into processing plants, while supplies to foodservice customers had “dropped off” as less people ate out.

“Our members are building contingency plans, which could include only processing priority cuts of meat in the event of staff shortages,” he told The Grocer. “More marginal cuts would then fall by the wayside.”

The crisis also reinforced concerns – voiced throughout the Brexit process – of the vulnerability of fresh food supply chains to labour shortages, Allen pointed out.

But with meat plants being deep-cleaned each night, he stressed the sector was well placed to deal with concerns over hygiene from the Covid-19 outbreak.

Elsewhere, trade body British Apples & Pears has cancelled its AGM conference next week in light of the current health situation, while the National Fruit Show’s AGM today has been postponed until the end of March. The British Poultry Council has also postponed its annual awards dinner on 25 March until December.

The Grocer’s publisher William Reed has also postponed its UK Food Shows scheduled for 30 March to 1 April at the NEC in Birmingham.

The Food & Drink Expo, Farm Shop & Deli Show and National Convenience Show will now take place at the NEC on 7-9 September 2020. Foodex and The Ingredients Show on the same date will move to 12-14 April 2021 to coincide with the 2021 running of the William Reed UK Food Shows.