Food workers from the EU play a vital role in the supply chain and without them the UK would face higher food prices, 30 food and drink organisations have warned.
In an open letter to the government published in The Guardian the organisations argue that EU workers in the food industry need urgent reassurance about their future in light of the Brexit vote.
Nearly 4m people are employed in food industries and some workers from the EU are already leaving the UK, signatories argued.
They urged the government to make sure the whole food supply chain received equal treatment with financial services or the automotive sectors if the UK adopted a work permit system to control immigration.
They said that in recent years Britain has enjoyed access to a wider range of food and drink while shop prices have been kept in check.
“If that is to continue, the government must ensure the place of food and drink both in our new industrial strategy and at the heart of the Brexit negotiations,” they said.
“The government should offer unambiguous reassurance to EU workers throughout our supply chain about their right to remain.”
The letter said it was important to recognise that these workers are highly flexible and provide an essential reservoir of skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled labour.
If a work permit system was adopted, the letter argued that all options should be explored including a points-based system for shortage occupations as well as sector-based and seasonal/guest worker schemes and effective transitionary arrangements.
“If they are not, the UK will face less food choice and higher food prices,” said the letter.
Signatories include the Food and Drink Federation, the NFU and the British Beer and Pubs Association.