Michael Rogers

Australia’s fresh produce industry has lobbied for changes to Covid-19 isolation rules with the latest outbreak depleting workforces across the supply chain.

The Australian Fresh Produce Alliance (AFPA) has called on state and territory governments to make immediate changes to the isolation requirements for food, transport and distribution workers that are close contacts.

According to the AFPA, the fresh produce industry supply chain – particularly the transport and distribution sectors – has faced a critically low workforce since the beginning of 2022 due to Covid cases and isolation requirements for close contacts.

Michael Rogers, chief executive of the AFPA, said he expects the situation to become increasingly worse over the coming weeks.

“Some businesses are seeing a halving in their workforce in one day. People aren’t turning up because they have Covid, are close contacts or are concerned about Covid. This is affecting the harvesting, packing, transport and distribution of fruit and vegetables,” said Rogers.

“The distribution centres of major retailers are a key hub for the entire food supply chain. We support the retailer calls for immediate changes to isolation requirements for close contacts, this is critical for retail distribution centres.

More broadly, we need these changes for food, transport and distribution workers, to make sure that we can get food into stores for Australian families.”

Currently, all close contacts of a positive Covid case must remain isolated for seven days, even with a negative rapid antigen or PCR test. Rogers said Australia’s largest food retailers indicated there will be less availability of products through January because of shortages.

“Without changes, it will become increasingly difficult to supply food over the next fortnight. We need all state and territory governments to look at measures to allow essential food, transport and distribution workers who do not have Covid to return to work as quickly as possible” said Rogers.

“While there is obvious public health concern over the increase in Covid cases we cannot ignore the effect that this is having on the community’s access to food. A shortage of food should not be added to the significant stress and anxiety many Australian families are already experiencing” said Rogers.