Scotland’s pork industry 'robust' despite Covid-19 crisis

Strong consumer demand and a collaborative sector approach has seen Scotland succeed when other markets have shut down altogether
Strong consumer demand and a collaborative sector approach has seen Scotland succeed when other markets have shut down altogether

Strong consumer demand and collaboration has seen the Scottish pork industry succeed when other markets like the US and Ireland have slowed.

This is according to Aberdeenshire pig producer Philip Sleigh, who has said Scotland’s pork industry remains robust despite Covid-19 challenges.

Mr Sleigh, who is also a Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) Board Member, congratulated the sector for holding strong in the face of significant issues.

“Price is always important, but at times like this what matters is the ability to continue to move, process and slaughter animals," he said.

“A huge amount of effort and pragmatism has gone into keeping meat plants going and product in front of consumers in the last few weeks to ensure the sector doesn’t stagnate, while keeping workers safe.”

In the United States, reports have said that more than 2 million breeding sows would be culled as processing capacity reduces due to infections in plants.

Hog prices have halved amid high consumer demand. Similarly, in Ireland, plants have been closed overnight due to infection.

Mr Sleigh added that collaboration and planning have played their part to ensure that while production may have slowed through necessity, it has not ground to a halt in Scotland.

"The challenge for the processors is preparing for potential absenteeism – due to childcare needs when the schools closed or through illness, combined with foreign workers returning home pre-lockdown – and allowing enough space for employees to work at a safe social distance."

Since March, the industry has seen a massive effort between the Food Standards Scotland and the meat industry to have contingencies in place.

Management has moved back to frontline activity, and the authorities have accelerated training courses for Official Vets and alleviated restrictions to allow flexibility in drivers’ hours.

Meanwhile, non-production staff are working from home and alternative facilities have been created for drivers’ breaks.

“Although it will surely have caused a few headaches, it is remarkable that to date output has not fallen short,” Mr Sleigh said.

He said he is conscious of his own production line and the need for his staff to remain both healthy and flexible in how they work in order to keep the firm going.

“The manager of our breeding stock is asthmatic so we are being extra vigilant to ensure he avoids external contact to minimise risk to him and his family," he said.

"Along with him, our two other farm employees are keeping operations going, staying on the farm and having food delivered. Everyone is playing their part.”

Currently consumer demand is staying strong, particularly for sausages and bacon. The price has remained stable and at close to record levels since before Christmas.

There may be challenges ahead in balance carcase, but this is being addressed and planned for, Mr Sleigh noted.

“We have seen a wave of support for UK food produce over the last few weeks from consumers," he explained.

"Going forward I hope that, having demonstrated that as an industry we can perform calmly and professionally when most needed, that we see a similar loyalty from UK-based retailers."