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Industry group warns that labor shortages in UK meat industry are spiralling

UK's meat industry labor shortage could threaten Christmas food supplies, warns the British Meat Processors Association.

23 August 2021, at 8:02am

Staff and skills shortages continue to hamper food production, and many meat companies are already around six weeks behind their Christmas production schedules.

It now looks inevitable that there will be a shortage of the more complicated lines like pigs in blankets and gammon roasts. Given the current workforce shortages, meat companies are finding it difficult to see how they’ll dig themselves out of this.

Part of the issue is that it’s more difficult to time the supply of pigs and cattle in the same way that you can for Christmas turkeys, so production of Christmas favorites like pigs in blankets has to be done well in advance, and normally should have started at the beginning of July.

Adding to the pressure of staff shortages, which are already reaching 15% and above, is the new problem of large retailers paying a sign-on bonus of between £2,000 and £5,000 per person to poach drivers from their own suppliers. This means that manufacturers are now struggling to move finished goods to retail distribution centres and make deliveries of goods and ingredients to manufacturing sites.

In addition, those same retailers are then charging a penalty to their suppliers for failure to deliver. This is the definition of a vicious circle and the problem will continue to spiral until something changes. That "something" must be an injection of new workers – not in two or three month’s time, but now – which the Government has in its power to bring about by temporarily relaxing visa requirements for migrant workers.