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Poland, France keep turkeys on Britain’s Christmas dinner menu

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Millions of British Christmas dinners are to be saved by turkeys imported from Poland and France after British farmers were forced to cut production over fears of labor shortages.

British supermarkets and restaurants will have to import hundreds of thousands of birds from the EU for Christmas after British farmers raised at least 1 million fewer birds, the poultry industry has warned.

Richard Griffiths, chief executive of the British Poultry Council, said the major turkey producers belonging to the group had cut production by about a fifth this year after Brexit cut off their supply of cheap labor. These producers normally raise around 5.5 million turkeys from the 8 to 9 million that are eaten at Christmas each year, he said.

The imported turkeys would likely come from Poland and France, said Paul Kelly of the KellyBronze outdoor turkey farm in Essex. “Supermarkets have supported British turkey for the past 15 years and we have been able to deliver 100% [of the demand]”Kelly said.” Now we will be forced to buy turkeys from the EU. “

The warning came as the government reversed its policy of limiting 5,500 emergency work visas for the poultry industry to the turkey sector in a bid to “save Christmas”. The visas, announced last weekend, would be available to all poultry workers, the Ministry of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said on Friday.

The visas were announced after poultry farmers, who previously relied on labor from Eastern Europe, warned of Christmas threats and potential overcrowding at chicken farms due to lack of workers.

A shortage of butchers has created a backlog of 120,000 pigs on farms. The pork industry has said it is on the brink of an “acute welfare disaster” © Paul Faith / Bloomberg

The industry is pushing for ministers to speed up the issuance of visas, which will expire at the end of the year.

“We can’t start applying for visas until mid-October and if it takes three to four weeks before they arrive, it’s mid-November at the earliest, and it’s too late “Griffiths said. “It’s even though the workforce is out there and waiting to come to the UK.”

George Eustice, Secretary of the Environment, said last week: “We have listened to the concerns of the sector and we are taking action to alleviate what is a very tight labor market. But in an industry briefing on Friday, the government said it would not extend or repeat the program.

“These measures are specific, limited in time and one-off. This program is not a medium to long term solution to labor supply issues and they will not be repeated in years to come, ”Defra said in a presentation.

Recruiters were hoping to reassign workers already in the UK as part of the six-month seasonal worker pilot program for fruit and vegetable pickers, but were told this would not be allowed, Griffiths said.

Kelly said he was successful in recruiting 62 of the 100 workers who normally pick and process the 35,000 Christmas birds on his farm. As a small farmer, he strived to gain settlement status for people who have done seasonal work in previous years at KellyBronze. “For the whole industry, which relies on agencies to fill in the gaps, it’s very tight,” he said.

A supermarket executive did not rule out importing birds, but dismissed “alarmists” over overall supply levels, adding that frozen birds would likely account for a larger proportion of sales this year.

Kelly said households order turkeys months in advance. “Sales increased by 230% compared to last year, whereas they were 150% compared to the previous year. Everyone orders their turkey earlier, ”he said.

The turkey warning came as the hog industry said it was on the verge of an “acute welfare disaster” caused by a shortage of butchers which created a backlog of 120,000 pigs in the country. firm.

Rob Mutimer, president of the National Pig Association, said conditions had “deteriorated considerably” over the past three weeks and that a mass slaughter of pigs, involving slaughtered and incinerated or rendered animals, may be needed in the past. a few weeks.

“We’re all pushing our ability to keep pigs to the absolute maximum. No one wants to see a slaughter. It was horrible during the foot-and-mouth disease, ”he said, referring to the disease outbreak in 2001.

The British Meat Processors Association said production of Christmas products such as “pigs in blankets” could be cut by a third. The UK consumes 40 million packs of bacon-coated sausages each year.

“We should have started putting pigs in blankets and ham fillets in July to celebrate Christmas. . . we’re just a long way behind, ”said Nick Allen, CEO of BMPA.

The food and drink industry, which employs more than 4 million people from farm to fork, estimated last month that it now has more than 500,000 vacancies, a situation exacerbated by Brexit and the return of EU workers to their homes during the pandemic. Food industry groups have requested a one-year “Covid-19 recovery visa” to help.