Premier Daniel Andrews has announced workforce restrictions on Victoria’s meat industry, with the aim of reducing the state’s alarming spike in coronavirus infections.
From midnight on Sunday, Victorian abattoirs will be required to reduce production by a third, while poultry farmers will operate at only 80 per cent capacity.
So, how will that impact on the availability of our favourite meat products on supermarket shelves?
‘You may not be able to get the cut of meat you want’
The measures come while greater Melbourne is in stage 4 lockdown, which will run until September 13, unless extended. Regional Victoria is under stage 3 restrictions.
Mr Andrews says he’s trying to balance the urgent need to flatten the curve of daily cases, while “not compromising” the food supply for families.
But while most meats will be available, he did concede there could be some product shortages.
“But you will get what you need, and you will get all the products that are, basically, fundamentally important to you.”
Meat-producing sites, with fewer than 25 employees, will be exempt from Victoria’s workforce reduction requirements.
Victorians urged not to panic buy
The early stages of the pandemic saw a rush by consumers across the country to buy products like toilet paper and hand sanitiser, forcing supermarkets to impose limits.
Victorians may be tempted to stock up on meat and poultry products, given the imminent reduction in production.
But Mr Andrews urged the state’s residents to show restraint on upcoming trips to local shopping centres.
“Plus, we are confident that we can continue with these production levels and meet the needs of the Victorian community.”
Two-pack limit at Coles, Woolworths
Coles and Woolworths have imposed a two-pack limit on most meat products for their Victorian customers.
For Woolworths, it applies to chicken, pork, lamb and beef.
Coles, which introduced the measures on Wednesday night, has included those four items, plus sausages and mince.
The limits also extend to Coles stores on the New South Wales border.
“Coles is working with our meat supply partners to ensure we can provide a broad range of products for our customers,” a Coles spokesperson said.
“We will continue to monitor stock levels and we thank customers for purchasing only what they need.”
Woolworths, whose restrictions were introduced last Sunday, is monitoring “the impact closely as the new restrictions come into effect”.
“We expect we’ll be able to maintain a good supply of fresh meat for our Victorian customers,” a Woolworths spokesperson said.
Victoria’s 800 retail butchers to remain open
The Australian Meat Industry Council (AMIC) says it is “challenging to forecast” how the lockdown restrictions will affect product price and supply across Victoria and elsewhere.
In addition to affecting domestic sales, it says the reduction in production will affect the quantities of meat being sent to lucrative export markets.
However, it added the ability of Victoria’s 800 butchers to remain open, despite tougher lockdown measures affecting most other retail businesses, will help consumers.
“Any change to that would severely impact the ability of the community to access product, especially within metro Melbourne, noting the within 5km from home community restrictions on travel.”
Chicken producers to face different rules
Initially, Victoria’s poultry farms also faced a two-thirds’ reduction in staffing levels.
But after complaints from industry leaders, the Premier changed his mind to allow chicken producers to cut staffing by only 20 per cent, instead of 33 per cent.
“So, we’ve gone to 80 per cent … [the] lifecycle of beef and others is longer.”
Seafood centres with fewer than 40 staff won’t need to make changes.
Fruit and vegetable wholesalers will also remain open, with reduced staffing levels.
Coronavirus exposes supply-chain flaws
The pandemic, with its many unpredictable twists and turns, has exposed flaws in Australia’s supply-chain production, according to industry experts.
University of Melbourne food systems expert Rachel Carey told the ABC earlier this week reduced processing capacity had little immediate impact on food supply.
Empty shelves in supermarkets were triggered by consumers drastically changing their buying habits in a way that retailers couldn’t keep up, she said, which highlighted vulnerabilities in the “just-in-time” food supply system.
The Premier said every Victorian had a part to play in avoiding meat and poultry shortages over the next month as the state endures an unwanted second lockdown.
“Every Victorian consumer can play their part in delivering that outcome by following the rules, going shopping within 5km, one person per day, buy what you need,” Mr Andrews said.