THE Australian Meat Industry Council is urgently calling for the Federal and State Governments to protect vulnerable food supply chains across Australia, as surging Omicron cases in the community are forcing essential workers to stay home and businesses to temporarily close or operate at very low staffing levels.
AMIC warns that there is a supply shortage looming unless urgent guarantees are put in place to shore up meat production and supply capacity. This includes processors, boning rooms, smallgoods manufacturers, cold stores and wholesalers through to butcher shops and supermarkets.
“In what is already a hugely challenging meat supply landscape, with record high livestock prices and labour shortages due to COVID border closures, we are hearing that multiple meat processing establishments are now having to temporarily shut their doors or operate at very low capacities due to the Omicron surge,” said AMIC CEO Patrick Hutchinson.
“We are experiencing an unprecedented wave of staffing unpredictability. As COVID spreads in the community, our industry workers are unable to present for work for at least seven days should someone in their family or household test positive, under the current national COVID protocol.”
“In some instances, we are hearing that under 30 percent of rostered workers have presented for work,” he said.
“Australian meat processors take COVID safety extremely seriously and have been highly successful in the last two years in limiting and keeping COVID out of establishments through a number of COVID safe measures. The industry is also undertaking daily Rapid Antigen Testing (RAT), with availability of RATs also a challenge.
“As we face the Omicron surge, we need Federal and State Governments to prioritise the nation’s food chain production and supply, in the same way that the health care sector is continuing to operate under unprecedented pressure.”
“The Australian meat industry needs assurance that it can continue to operate via access to Public Health Order exemptions for those that are asymptomatic close contacts, access to free or low-cost RATs, and prioritised PCR testing and turnarounds, so that we can keep on feeding the people. We don’t want to see a return of the early 2020 situation, with widespread supply shortages exacerbated by panic buying.”