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"Christmas turkeys playing into French hands", says UK turkey producer

UK turkey producers warn that labor shortages in the poultry sector could have consumers turning to French imports for the Christmas season.

8 September 2021, at 7:28am

Some consumers will have no option than to buy a French turkey for Christmas if UK producers are unable to obtain enough labor for processing, warns Paul Kelly, managing director of Kelly Turkeys.

“Sad thing is 30 years ago about 30% of the UK turkey market was supplied by France."

Since having access to EU workers the UK turkey industry has built up the farms and infrastructure needed to supply just about 100% of the turkey the supermarkets need - and the supermarkets have been very supportive of quality British turkey production.

“Now,” he said, “the French factories are rubbing there hands with glee as they can see all that business they used to have returning to them.”

He said the turkey sector will be hit massively this Christmas as they rely on agencies who bring in labor from the EU and that pool of labor is no longer accessible.

“The larger companies have made the prudent decision to reduce Christmas turkey numbers by at least 20% as they simply cannot process the turkeys without the seasonal labor to do it.

“COVID-19 has not helped the labor situation - but it is not the primary reason as many EU workers have left UK. They do not feel welcome anymore and unless they have settled status - which only lasts for five years - the paperwork they need to go through to get here is bureaucratic and the expense is costly.

“The fact is they do not see a future in the UK, so they are concentrating on finding work in the EU where they have a future. They would like to work in the UK as it pays well, we have high standards and the language barrier is easier as most speak some English.”

Paul Kelly, whose FarmGate hatchery business supplies many of the 1,000 small seasonal turkey growers throughout the country, is equally concerned about their situation.

“These are the farmers who traditionally supply local butchers and farmers markets and sell direct from the farmgate. They have a potential nightmare on their hands if the regular people who help them every year with plucking and processing turkeys have not got settled status.”