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Poultry farmers are urging the government to lift travel restrictions to allow hundreds of specialist EU turkey pluckers to fill jobs in the UK, with a warning that there could be a shortage of birds or higher prices if the restrictions are not waived.
An urgent exemption from Covid-related quarantine is needed to avoid shortages of highly skilled turkey pluckers and butchers that could trigger the collapse of this year’s supply, says the British Poultry Council (BPC). Around 9m British turkeys are reared for Christmas each year but the seasonal sector cannot survive without non-UK labour, it warns.
The proposed exemption would cover at least 1,000 seasonal workers who normally travel from Poland, Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Slovenia at the end of October to help slaughter, pluck and prepare birds destined for UK Christmas dinner tables. It says workers with typical two-month contracts will not come if they have to quarantine for two weeks upon arrival, even if they are provided with Covid-secure accommodation and “work bubbles”.
“The seasonal turkey sector is vital to delivering the Great British Christmas and it cannot survive without access to non-UK labour,” said BPC’s chief executive, Richard Griffiths. “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.”
“Government must ensure that British poultry meat, and the quality it represents, stays affordable and available for all. Losing control of ourselves as a nation would penalise British food producers at a time when we should be taking matters of food security into our own hands.”
The BPC is the trade association for UK producers of poultry meat – chicken, turkey, duck and goose. Its members account for nearly 90% of production, and raise nearly 1bn birds every year.
Turkey farmers rely heavily on seasonal help to assist with the intensive job of slaughter: hand-plucking, weighing, hanging and evisceration.
With lockdown forcing smaller festive gatherings, farmers are finding it difficult to predict consumer demand, and there are fears that larger birds will be out of favour.
Chicks – or poults – typically ordered in February grace the Christmas dinner table as fully grown birds the following year. According to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), between January and June 2020 there were 6.2m poults being reared on farms, compared with 6.1m in the same period in 2019.
Intensive meat processing plants have already fallen victim to outbreaks of Covid-19. A thousand staff at Bernard Matthews’ facility in Holton, Suffolk, have been tested after 72 colleagues were found to be Covid-19 positive.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: UK farmers call for EU workers to bypass Covid quarantine | Business