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EU Covid surge could create meat shortages at Christmas, industry bosses warn

·2-min read

Plans to bring in butchers from the EU to prevent a meat shortage this Christmas are under threat amid a surge in Covid cases across Europe, industry bosses have warned.

A new visa scheme will allow 800 overseas butchers to come to the UK for six months to help tackle labour shortages during the festive period.

However, a fourth wave of Covid cases on the bloc and travel restrictions imposed as a result of the Omicron variant could create problems for the scheme, it is feared.

Nick Allen, chief executive of the British Meat Processors Association, told the Telegraph: “Most of these people are still looking like they’re going to be coming from Europe or eastern Europe, and things are changing fast Covid-wise in terms of Europe, so that’s one of the things that could really throw this off course.”

Mr Allen warned that many butchers would hold off coming to the UK until after the Christmas period – leaving suppliers facing pressure as they “try to get as much ready as soon as possible”.

He added that the meat industry would prioritise Christmas favourites over other choices.

“People have cut down the choices and cut the number of lines to try to keep the volume of products going through,” he added.

“There probably won’t be too many shortages on the shelves, but there won’t be the choice of alternatives.”

The food and hospitality industries have come under pressure in the past three months amid chronic labour shortages and supply chain issues.

Earlier this month, hospitality bosses warned there were “no guarantees” over Christmas deliveries and that “acute” warehouse staffing issues remain.

Kate Nicholls, chief executive of trade body UKHospitality, said that the UK’s hospitality sector is currently seeing 10 per cent vacancy rates, representing a shortage of around 200,000 staff across the country.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has also warned meat and poultry producers that a shortage of vets could lead to lead to interruptions in their operations in the weeks leading up to Christmas.

Dr Colin Sullivan, the FSA’s chief operating officer, wrote to producers of turkey, pork, beef, chicken, lamb, goose and duck in England and Wales to inform them that “ongoing resource challenges” could lead to a “small number of short service interruptions within the weeks prior to Christmas”.

By law, abattoirs in the UK must have a vet on site.

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