Labour shortages caused by Brexit uncertainty could threaten the UK’s supply of Christmas dinner favourites such as pigs in blankets, an industry body has warned.
The British Meat Producers Association (BMPA) said this year is proving to be “particularly challenging” in the lead-up to Christmas, as demand for labour in the industry grows by up to 15% in the festive period.
However, the drop in the value of sterling and Brexit uncertainty has led to a shortage of EU nationals taking on seasonal work in the UK’s meat processing industry.
Currently, over 60% of the UK’s meat processing jobs are filled by workers from the EU and as numbers dwindle, Christmas treats such as pigs in blankets could be in short supply.
Nick Allen, chief executive of the BMPA told the BBC wrapping cocktail sausages in bacon was done by hand as the job was “fiddly and hard to mechanise”.
According to the BMPA, the proportion of non-UK nationals working in the meat industry has risen significantly in the past 15 years.
“The ability to access non-UK resident workers in the UK meat sector’s supply chain has driven the growth of the sector, allowing the industry to meet consumer and retailer demands, become more efficient, more flexible and more export-focused. Migrant workers have not replaced UK workers but added to them,” it said.
It added many meat processing plants in the UK operate in areas of low unemployment and “there is simply not the workforce available to fill the requirements of meat processors”.
Meanwhile, the British Poultry Association warned that labour shortages will have a “significant impact” on the production of food.
It urged the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to ensure there is still access to labour post Brexit as part of its National Food Strategy.
It said: “Every year we have about 7,200 vacancies that need to be filled with non-UK workers. If these vacancies cannot be filled post Brexit, it will have a significant impact on the production of, and therefore cost of food – all of which will pose a risk to affordability and potentially force people to go without food.”
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