My Lords, I was privileged to be a member of the Lords EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee when it produced Brexit-related reports on agriculture, and on food prices and availability. The two key vulnerabilities in our food system that the Covid-19 crisis has laid bare were highlighted in those reports: first, the UK’s dependency on the rest of the world, given than half our food is imported; and secondly, the gaping labour gap left by EU workers who do so much of the heavy lifting in all aspects of food manufacturing, in both skills and stamina. Can the Minister say what progress has been made by the Feed the Nation campaign to fill the 80,000 vacancies for this harvest season?
The British Veterinary Association states that 95% of official veterinarians working in abattoirs come mainly from the EU. These OVs are essential to ensuring compliance with food standards and regulations, as well as upholding levels of animal welfare. A reduction in their numbers will seriously compromise the FSA’s ability to sustain a sufficient service. How has the food safety inspections regime been coping with reduced personnel, the difficulty of maintaining social distancing measures in food production settings, and a shortage of PPE? Essentially, is enough being done to safeguard the public against the risk of food-borne disease? Lastly, what advice have scientists given about the risk of SARS-CoV-2 jumping the species barrier from humans back to the animal kingdom—to, say, chickens?