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Labour shortage causing crisis in UK poultry supply

Immediate government action is needed to stem the supply crisis facing the UK poultry industry, due to a severe shortage of staff.

Richard Griffiths, British Poultry Council CE, said his members were already having to cut back production because of a lack of staff.

The British Poultry Council said his members were already having to cut back on production because of a lack of staff. Photo: Henk Riswick
The British Poultry Council said his members were already having to cut back on production because of a lack of staff. Photo: Henk Riswick

“Members are telling us that many have been forced to cut back weekly chicken production by 5-10%, year-round turkey production by 10% and Christmas turkey production to be cut by 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 labour 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 2-tier food system where high-quality British food may be out of reach for struggling consumers,” he warned.

Production cuts and shut-down of training

His words were echoed by Soanes Poultry MD, Nigel Upson, who said the firm was facing staff shortages and had been forced to cut production as a result. At one stage at the end of July, the company faced a 20% staff shortfall.

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“As a consequence we have had to scale back production and have had to temporarily shut the new training hub. Over the last 2 years we have invested £1.5 million (€ 1.7 million) to increase capacity to meet consumer demand and now we have to reduce the number of chicks that we rear because we don’t have the labour to process them,” he said, adding that he blamed Brexit and Covid-19 for the perfect storm that had resulted in 1.3 million EU nationals returning to their own countries, impacting production.

2 Sisters: “complete madness”

2 Sisters Food Group president, Ranjit Singh, said the industry was at a crisis point due to the issues around Covid-19 and a shortage of staff. “We are operating in a framework that is complete madness and the government needs to be asked why they are sticking their heads in the sand. Why is the government still paying furlough to around 2 million people with the economy essentially open and yet we have an ongoing labour crisis? Why is is not reclassifying our frontline workers to the correct status so we have a corridor open for EU workers in the UK?”

Calling on the government

The British Poultry Council calling on the government to:
- Include poultry meat supply chain workers on the “skilled workers list” and “shortage occupations list” and reduce unnecessary thresholds on salaries and skills.
- Extend the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme to the poultry meat sector to protect seasonal demand for poultry meat in Christmas trading.
- Ensure vital food production is at the core of skills and education programmes such as the Lifetime Skills Guarantee and Apprenticeship Levy to improve the appeal of the sector.
- Urgently adopt the first food security survey as required by the new Agriculture Bill.