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On-going labor crisis in the British poultry industry could lead to production shortages

The British Poultry Council is warning that difficulties finding workers could lead to a two-tier food system where locally-produced food is out of reach for many consumers.

17 August 2021, at 9:34am

The British poultry meat industry is facing a significant shortage of workers across farming and processing with businesses reporting an average vacancy rate of over 16% of their total workforce. The alarming number of gaps is continuing to grow due to the effects of Brexit and compounded by a Government that continually acts against the best interests of British food producers.

The sector is currently facing a serious shortage of production operatives and processing staff that are classified as low skilled workers in Home Office terms but play an incredibly important role in keeping food supply moving and feeding the nation at all times.

British Poultry Council Chief Executive, Richard Griffiths, said: “Members are telling us that many have been forced to cut back weekly chicken production by 5-10%, all year-round turkey production by 10% and estimate Christmas turkey production to be cut down by a 20%. They are saying they are currently producing a reduced range of products for UK customers, and are seriously concerned that the supply of staple chicken products will be impacted. This is all down to labor shortages.

UK food security will be hit with a double whammy of food inflation and being forced to rely on more imported food. This can only lead to a two-tier food system where high-quality British food is out of reach for many struggling consumers.

When the heads of major food companies, and indeed entire food sectors, stand up and say we are in the worst position they have ever seen then it is beholden on our Government to fix this catastrophic debacle of their making. If that means relaxing immigration rules or accepting regulatory alignment with the EU, then these are the steps that must be taken to put British food on the road to recovery.”

As a sector that produces half of the meat eaten in the UK, the British poultry meat industry is calling on the Government to:

  • Include poultry meat supply chain workers on the "skilled worker list" and "shortage occupation list" and reduce unnecessary thresholds on salaries and skills.
  • Extend the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme to the poultry meat sector (agriculture and processing), to protect seasonal demand for poultry meat and Christmas turkeys.
  • Ensure vital food production is at the core of skills and education programmes such as the Lifetime Skills Guarantee and the Apprenticeship Levy to improve the appeal of the sector to build a UK workforce.
  • Urgently conduct the first food security survey as required of them in the new Agriculture Bill.

The British Poultry Council says that its members are determined to strike a balance between a skilled workforce and investing in innovation and technology. Mr. Griffiths said, “As a sector we see multimillion-pound opportunities to invest in our facilities and automation to create a modern, fit for the future food supply chain that carries on putting safe, wholesome, and affordable food on every table. However, we cannot do that while the Government seems determined to level-down British food production.”