No turkey for Christmas? Fears of a festive feast shortage

No turkey for Christmas? Fears of a festive feast shortage as coronavirus quarantine rules could affect skilled staff brought to UK to process and prepare the birds

  • Producers fear they won’t have enough skilled staff to process and prepare birds 
  • It comes as firms will be unable to bring in skilled seasonal workers from Europe 
  • British Poultry Council urging ministers to lift legal requirement for quarantine 

Families have been warned that turkeys and trimmings could be in short supply this Christmas.

Producers fear they will not have enough skilled staff to process and prepare the birds and other items for the busy festive market.

The problem stems from the risk that firms will not be able to bring in skilled seasonal workers from Europe, said the British Poultry Council.

Families have been warned that turkeys and trimmings could be in short supply this Christmas (stock image used)

The industry body is urging ministers to lift a legal requirement for more than 1,000 of these workers to go into a 14-day quarantine when they come to Britain to help stop the spread of coronavirus.

Normally, they arrive at the end of October each year from Poland, Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Slovenia to process the turkeys and millions of trimmings packs, such as pigs in blankets.

Despite rising unemployment in this country, the BPC said its members need experienced staff from eastern Europe to ensure there are enough turkeys and crowns to meet demand.

The industry body is issuing a plea for an ‘urgent exemption for non-UK seasonal poultry workers from quarantine restrictions to ensure Christmas supply does not collapse’.

Chief executive Richard Griffiths said: ‘The seasonal turkey sector is vital to delivering the Great British Christmas and it cannot survive without access to non-UK labour. The seasonal turkey industry needs to bring in at least 1,000 workers for the 2020 Christmas period.

If these vacancies cannot be filled, it will have a significant impact on the production of and therefore cost of food – all of which will pose a risk to affordability and potentially force people to go without this Christmas.

Producers fear they will not have enough skilled staff to process and prepare the birds and other items for the busy festive market

‘There is a shortage of UK-based workers with the necessary training and qualifications to slaughter and process Christmas turkeys. 

‘Turkey producers are heavily reliant on licensed and trained EU workers with specific farming, processing, and butchery skills.

‘These skills cannot be replaced without a lengthy training and recruitment period. The type of skills turkey production requires are not available among UK workers, particularly not among the pool of those who are currently unemployed. 

‘Also, it will be infeasible to train and upskill UK workers within the short window available.

‘If the sector cannot bring in trained workers from outside the UK as soon as possible, then the level and quality of production will be significantly compromised. 

‘[The] Government must ensure that British poultry meat, and the quality it represents, stays affordable and available for all.

‘Losing control of how we feed ourselves as a nation would penalise British food producers at a time when we should be taking food security into our own hands.’

The rules are designed to prevent the importation of Covid-19 through workers and returning holidaymakers so it seems highly unlikely that the Government will agree to lift the quarantine in the continuing battle against the virus.

Around nine million turkeys are reared every year for Christmas. A Government spokesman said: ‘We are working to assess needs and ensure a steady supply of British turkeys as we approach Christmas.’

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