Food sector encouraged to offer mass Covid-19 testing

Farmers and growers in England with more than 50 employees can register to be provided with free Covid-19 testing kits, as part of efforts to guarantee the nation’s food supplies.

Defra has informed the NFU that food and drink businesses of a sufficient scale can register for government-funded lateral flow tests to allow for weekly testing of workers who are unable to work from home.

The free lateral flow device (LFD) test kits will be available until 31 March 2021 and are designed to identify asymptomatic workers.

See also: Read more coronavirus advice from Farmers Weekly

Employers who sign up to the programme will be expected to set up and organise the testing facility, following a clinically-approved protocol, but government will fund and supply the tests.

Any worker who tests positive will need to self-isolate according to national guidelines, as will any close contacts.

Current government guidelines state anyone who tests positive for Covid-19 must self-isolate for 14 days and anyone who has been in contact with someone who has tested positive for Covid-19 must self-isolate for 10 days.

‘Strongly welcomed’

NFU deputy president Stuart Roberts said the union strongly welcomed the move to get rapid asymptomatic workplace testing in place for those still working incredibly hard to produce the nation’s food.

“It has always been important during times of crisis to keep workers safe and our shops and fridges full, so it’s great that Defra and the Department of Health and Social Care have secured this testing for those food businesses, including farmers and growers where they have more than 50 employees,” Mr Roberts said.

The NFU would continue to work closely with the government to give smaller businesses access to mass testing facilities and to reduce the need for workers to self-isolate as close contacts if they themselves have tested negative, he added.

Smaller employers

The NFU has said establishing an asymptomatic testing site (ATS) may not be feasible for smaller businesses or premises, and the model being rolled out is also less suitable for mobile employees working in the field away from a fixed location.

It has been told the government is developing alternatives, but for now businesses with fewer than 50 employees should contact their local authority to explore the possibility of using a community testing facility for staff testing.

How to register interest

To register your interest in workplace testing, email

In the subject line, enter “Register interest for National Worker Programme”.

In the body of the email state:

  • Institution name
  • Email for main point of contact
  • Industry sector: food production
  • Company registration number
  • Size of company (no. of employees): 50-250 or >250

This offer currently covers locations in England only.