BRUSSELS, BELGIUM — EU food and feed industry representatives are expressing concerns to the European Commission about enacting social distancing measures designed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) without disrupting the food and feed supply chains.

The global COVID-19 pandemic, which has infected more than 200,000 people and killed more than 7,000, has spread quickly through Western Europe in the last two weeks. Italy, Germany and France are among the countries hit hardest by the virus.

While the groups acknowledged the need to strictly comply with EU and national instructions to prevent further dissemination of the virus among its employees, suppliers and customers, they emphasized that it was important to ensure that the food and feed supply chains remain open.

 The European Feed Manufacturers’ Federation (FEFAC) called for the inclusion of feed next to food in the list of essential goods mentioned in the EU Commission Guidelines on Border Management published March 17.

“Farm animals must be fed every day in order to provide key food products consumed by the population and to ensure animal health and welfare,” FEFAC said. “Some Member States, like Spain, Italy and Belgium, have already included feed supplies on their list of essential goods, but we need a harmonized approach at EU level.”

 In addition, the groups called on the EU and national authorities to take swift action to ensure that all food and feed, even if not perishable, can be transported across the EU unhindered as long as all required health safety measures are respected.

They said the decision to close the EU outside borders that was taken on March 17 to contain the propagation of the virus should not apply to vessels bringing in the food and feed raw materials that are in short supply in the EU — again, as long as they take every necessary health measure to ensure the health of all actors in the food and feed supply chain.

 “As traders of agri commodities, our mission is to ensure the supply of the raw materials and ingredients that are needed by farmers, the food sector and the feed industry for direct use and further processing,” said Philippe Mitko, president of COCERAL. “We source from European producers, moving agri goods across the EU and exporting the surplus, but we also import the raw materials for which the EU is in deficit.

“We have been watching disruptions in the food and feed supply chain increasing in the last few days and are very concerned about future developments as the COVID-19 virus continues to spread. The EU needs to protect the health of all operators in the chain so that they continue to ensure the uninterrupted supply of food and feed.”

Nick Major, president of FEFAC,  said he believes the EU can achieve both goals of keeping its citizen safe from the virus while keeping the food and feed chain flowing.  

“The EU feed industry fully accepts the need for strict containment policies at EU and Member States level to slow down the infectious COVID-19 cycle,” Major said. “Our priority and key mission are to protect animal health and welfare of farm animals and food supply chains for milk, meat, eggs to consumers during the COVID-19 crisis. We therefore urge the EU Commission to recognize the status of feed as essential goods in the EU COVID-19 guidelines, which is crucial to uphold the functioning of the single market for feedstuffs to prevent supply chain disruptions and shortages of essential nutrients to the EU farm animal population.”