COVID-19: Response across the CIEL Network

A note from CIEL’s CEO, Lyndsay Chapman

There’s been an incredible, proactive response across the CIEL network to the current pandemic. All of our Partners are showing immense resilience, commitment and ingenuity, moving at pace to put contingency measures in place to prioritise safety, whilst ensuring operations continue efficiently & effectively to help keep the farming and food supply chain intact.

As with many businesses, the CIEL team is now working remotely. However, you can contact us through all the usual routes.

We’re liaising closely with Government partners – responding to their requests for information and providing a coordinating role. We’re also speaking regularly with our sister Centres to assess where we can provide the most support and learn what’s working well (and what’s still proving challenging). We are also maintaining a strong dialogue with Members on short, medium, and long-term impacts and potential shifts in industry focus to ensure that we are able to respond quickly to our Members’ needs and offer support through guidance, research or a shared voice to government.

Please read on for a glimpse into the contribution just some of our Members and Research Partners are making to support the agrifood sector and national effort to combat the COVID-19 crisis.

Industry Members

  • March was the busiest month on record for UK supermarkets, represented strongly within the CIEL network. All have had to rapidly adjust the way they operate in response to the latest guidance from Government. We know our food processors and the allied trades are similarly taking active steps to speed up the production and supply of essential goods, working across the supply chain to deliver record volumes of their products.
  • Significant production and logistical challenges are being successfully overcome by the feed industry. Alltech have opened up their COVID-19 response portal making its resources available to all who might benefit from them. In the recent instalment of Feed Matters, FeedNavigator’s podcast series, Steven Read, chief operating officer at ForFarmers UK, offers an insight into how they are navigating a trading landscape utterly changed by the COVID-19 outbreak.
  • We also recognise how hard the sector’s levy boards, associations and societies are working to represent the interests of their members. A dedicated coronavirus section is now live on the AHDB website and a new Helpdesk is available for farmers, growers and the supply chain. BMPA (British Meat Processors Association) is working with farmers, retailers, Defra, the Food Standards Agency and organisations up and down the food supply chain to formulate a pragmatic approach to ensuring the sustained operation of the food industry.

Organisations across the CIEL network, including ourselves, have moved to delivering their planned event programmes via virtual platforms.

BSAS (British Society of Animal Science), having cancelled their main BSAS 2020 conference programme, are looking to compile and publish a digital book of the peer reviewed and accepted abstracts for the 2020 meeting.

With challenge comes opportunity

  • Within the health & welfare sector, CIEL Member Arcis Biotechnology have developed a Coronavirus RNA extraction research kit to improve COVID-19 Response & Healthcare Worker safety through accelerated RNA extraction. The team are actively seeking to collaborate with those working on a COVID-19 diagnostic.
  • GAMA Healthcare (the parent company of CIEL Member Aga Nanotech) is donating 25,000 disinfectant wipes to the NHS. The team has been working around the clock to ensure that it can continue to meet demand for its infection prevention products, and has partnered up with wet wipes manufacturer Rockline Europe to ramp up production by re-purposing a production line.
  • Infectious disease scientists at the Zoetis Centre for Transboundary and Emerging Diseases are working to understand if the novel coronavirus is a specific risk to livestock and pets. In response to outbreaks of infectious diseases, the Center mobilises resources from across the company and works closely with leaders from government, health organizations and the veterinary and livestock agricultural communities to identify disease threats to animals.

Evidence, expertise and equipment from CIEL’s Research Partners

Whilst universities may have temporarily suspended face to face teaching, our academic partners have rallied to support the COVID-19 national response. Some varied examples (not exhaustive) include:

  • Harper Adams University stand ready to offer drone sprayer training to qualified emergency services drone pilots, should disinfection of COVID-19 infection hotspots be deployed.
  • Queen’s University Belfast are amongst the first recipients of funding from the UKRI rapid research response fund in a bid to find a treatment for COVID-19. Separately, they are pursuing two parallel technologies to help meet the demand for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) within the NHS.
  • The University of Edinburgh’s Roslin Institute is leading a £5m COVID-19 study to examine the effect of coronavirus infection.
  • The University of Leeds has volunteered its campus, opening up pathology and microbiology laboratories in the School of Medicine and contributing staff and equipment to give additional capacity for diagnostic testing in support of Leeds Teaching Hospitals Trust. It’s additionally providing hardware for production of parts for ventilators, and delivering specific research projects that use the specialist expertise within their academic community.
  • The University of Nottingham has provided 13 Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) machines that can together perform an estimated 20,000 tests a day. The University will also be part of a £20m investment into a national consortium to map how COVID-19 spreads and behaves by using whole genome sequencing.
  • The Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI) have put their resources at the disposal of the Northern Ireland Health Service & government to support testing and technical developments in the fight against COVID-19.
  • University of Bristol researchers have united to collaborate on finding ways to overcome the disease to include laboratory research, population-based studies, modelling and epidemiology, clinical trials, surveys and social science research. Work includes supporting trials of a vaccine pioneered in the UK which could protect against COVID-19.
  • Other research partners have put their institutional support at the disposal of government agencies including the NHS, much of which is being coordinated by the Wellcome Trust and the Medicines Discovery Catapult.

For information on how the Government is supporting businesses during the COVID-19 crisis, please click here