Growing labour shortages could lead to gaps on supermarket shelves, trade bodies warn

A group of trade bodies including the British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) and the Food & Drink Federation (FDF) have added their voices to a joint letter to the prime minister, which warns a chronic lack of labour is threatening supplies of food in the UK.

The letter to Boris Johnson, organised by the Road Haulage Association (RHA), asks for direct intervention on behalf of the food industry. There are shortages in workers throughout the supply chain, from lorry drivers through to poultry processing workers. 

A combination of the pandemic and EU nationals returning to their home nations due to Brexit has left vacancies across the food supply chain. British Poultry Council chief executive Richard Griffiths said last week poultry production in the UK had declined 10% since Easter due to a lack of available staff both in plants and on farms.

RHA chief executive Richard Burnett said: “It is our collective view that there has never been a more challenging time for this industry and we urge you to take these decisive steps to ensure that we can continue to maintain the UK’s integrated and finely balanced supply chains.”

“We firmly believe that intervention from the Prime Minister / Cabinet Office is the only way we will be able to avert critical supply chains failing at an unprecedented and unimaginable level. Supermarkets are already reporting that they are not receiving their expected food stocks and, as a result, there is considerable wastage.”

“We are weeks away from gaps on the shelves, it is as serious as that,” said Burnett.

Nick Allen, chief executive of the BMPA said in an ITV interview the problem has become acute. “I have never have had chief executives of massively large companies phone me up and say ‘Nick, we have to do something. We have to get the message through to government, to people, that we are weeks away from a crisis.’ I have never had that happen. It’s extraordinary.”

The industry wants the government to relax post-Brexit immigration rules by introducing a temporary worker visa for agricultural and processing workers.

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