Christmas dinner at risk: British meat industry issues desperate alert

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More than 70 percent of staff in some of the processing factories across the UK are from eastern European countries. But tens of thousands have not yet made applications to remain in the UK under the EU settlement scheme, which closes on June 30.

It comes as a new immigration system now applies to people who arrived in the UK from 1 January 2021.

EU citizens moving to the UK to work need to get a visa in advance.

EU citizens applying for a skilled worker visa need to show they have a job offer from an approved employer sponsor to be able to apply.

According to Settled, a settlement support charity, a backlog of people in the process of applying had exceeded 300,000 and was increasing by thousands each week.

Those who have not applied in time would lose their right to work and could even face deportation.

However, the British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) warned they had already seen a shortage of staff in processing factories.

They warned this is likely to escalate in the coming months, sparking concerns Christmas dinner could be jeopardised.

A BMPA spokesperson told Farmers Weekly: “We are hearing that some factories are struggling to keep throughput going.

“As Christmas work nears, this will only get worse.”

While some companies have begun shipping whole carcasses abroad for cutting, it was proved to be easier to recruit staff to carry out cutting within Europe.

This sparked fears this could become the norm and create a UK skills drain as the work shifts abroad to the continent.

James Hook, director of poultry firm Hook 2 Sisters, lashed out at the Government claiming they had failed to recognise the value of the system of employment within the meat sector.

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He said: “There has been a constant inflow of new workers coming in to replace those going home after their two-year stint.

“The problem we are seeing in 2 Sisters’ factories is that the flow of incomers is drying up and skilled workers are going home in large numbers.”

George Gordon, of rural recruitment agency LKL Services, warned the loss of skilled workers will only increase due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr Gordon warned when travel restrictions lift, there could be an exodus of workers who would not be replaced in the sector.

He said: “There is already a shortage of workers available and British workers do not want to work in these environments.

“I hope politicians will come to their senses.

“There is a real need for a migrant worker scheme like those seen in the US and New Zealand.

“The UK already has strict employment laws and licensing that could underpin such a system preventing any abuse.”

This is not the first time Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been warned about the impact Brexit could have on the meat industry.

Back in January, meat exporters to the EU were hit with lengthy customs and health checks as part of more stringent rules, with customers cancelling orders and costly meat destroyed before reaching the continent as it’s no longer fresh.

BMPA chief executive Nick Allen warned EU customers would abandon British businesses and look elsewhere for meat imports if border issues were not resolved.

David Lindars from the BMPA warned more than 120 lorries carrying British meat was stuck at Rotterdam port in the south of Holland, including one transporting pork.

Mr Johnson has already been forced to bail out the UK fishing industry due to Brexit red tape.

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