OPEN LETTER – Recognising FOOD HEROES in the face of a pandemic

Brussels, 22 April 2020 – Long queues at supermarkets and food shops. Half-empty shelves. Only a few products in refrigerators. When re-stocked, the items in much demand at our supermarkets are regularly seen to be the now infamous toilet paper, followed by essential foods such as meat, milk, eggs, bread, canned goods and pasta.

Such scenes have been witnessed in several shops across Europe, and indeed the world. And many EU citizens born after the mid-1950s are not used to such experiences. But luckily – thanks to the many Food Heroes working against the clock throughout the entire food supply chain – food security should be the least of our worries in Europe in the face of this COVID-19 pandemic.

The Food Chain DOES NOT STOP

We are facing an unprecedented crisis, yet Europe’s food sector professionals continue their hard work, despite increasing difficulties and pressure, to ensure food security for 500 million EU citizens. The knock-on effects of the pandemic have led to dramatic consequences in many rural areas of Europe, with potential impacts on food supply and indeed jobs. All the measures put in place so far by the European Commission to safeguard and protect the functioning of agricultural activity and its wider value chain are most welcome and a great recognition of the essential services and products provided.

European Livestock Voice represents many actors in the livestock food sector, but we are not the boots on the ground. And it is in these times of such uncertainty, that we take pride in offering a voice for these professionals  at EU-level, and we, in turn, thank the many farmers, breeders, animal feed and health care providers, processors, traders, and everyone else along the chain for their continued efforts to keep the supplies flowing and shelves stocked with safe and nutritious fish, meat, eggs, and dairy products.

Livestock Farming, an essential service

Being considered as essential services and workers may not come as a surprise to many food producers and their food chain partners, but it is reassuring to see their sometimes-thankless work recognised as a basic need for continued human health and well-being. Indeed, in these challenging times, many governments are looking to farming communities for continued activity and production. There are certainly no calls for reductions.

In the face of incredible challenges, livestock farmers and food processors continue to deliver on high standards of food safety and respecting regulations in place. And EFSA has confirmed that there is currently no evidence that food is a likely source or route of transmission of the virus. A point repeated by the UN FAO, which confirms that meat from healthy livestock remains safe to eat when it is cooked thoroughly.

But it’s not just food, certain animal by-products serve as raw materials not only for the production of different foods, but also for medicines. The continued supply of hide gelatine supports the production of soft and hard capsules for pharmaceuticals for example, and collagen casings help maintain sausage production in Europe, an easy and flexible food product in this time of crisis.

Indeed, many people are placing their trust in food producers for reassurance that they will be able to feed their families with a wide range of foods and keep them in good health for the foreseeable future.

WE are in this TOGETHER

For years the livestock sector in Europe has been trying to address a never-ending stream of misinformation about how food is produced. And at this time, it is astonishing to see certain influencers continue negative rhetoric, disingenuously linking an increased emergence of zoonoses with modern livestock farming in Europe, during a time when we are all equally affected by a great threat and at a time when people need to keep well-nourished and healthy.

Europe’s highly regulated livestock production systems and safety controls have led to Europe having the highest levels of food safety in the world. With the majority of the population isolated at home and relying on social media more than ever to feel connected to others, people are looking for positive stories and factual information. They want to know how other people and sectors are helping. We strongly believe that the European livestock sector has many good stories to tell, and many comforting photos and videos to share of the work of farmers and other suppliers and partners as they adapt to this new situation.

We will continue to support factual information when it comes to food production in Europe, and we invite the EU livestock food world and indeed all food producers to share their stories. Let’s fill social media with the facts and positive stories about farming. We are ALL in this together supporting people at home and healthcare workers on the front line, and we should raise our voices to ensure that we are heard.