Here's why you might not get pigs in blankets with your Christmas dinner this year

Around 60 per cent of meat processing firms' workforces tend to come from overseas (Photo: Getty)Around 60 per cent of meat processing firms' workforces tend to come from overseas (Photo: Getty)
Around 60 per cent of meat processing firms' workforces tend to come from overseas (Photo: Getty)

by Laurie Havelock

Christmas dinners around the UK may be missing a few festive staples this year, as several trade bodies have warned that a labour shortage could affect supplies of winter treats.

The British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) has warned that food processing firms are not attracting enough seasonal EU workers, who make up 60 per cent of the labour force in UK meat plants, in the run-up to Christmas.

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'Fiddly and hard to mechanise'

The BPMA estimates that most processing plants are 15 per cent short of their required festive workforces, due to to the combined effect of a fall in the value of the pound and uncertainty over some workers' residential plans.

It said that pigs in blankets, described as last year's "festive stalwart ripe for regeneration", are one of the items that could be in short supply this December.

Several pork and poultry suppliers have warned they will fail to meet Christmas orders (Photo: Getty)

The association's chief executive, Nick Allen, said that the industry relies on seasonal work to perform tasks that are "fiddly and hard to mechanise", including wrapping cocktail sausages in bacon to create the Christmas favourite.

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Mr Allen added that it is becoming increasingly difficult to attract UK nationals to work in meat plants as they tend to be local in rural areas with low levels of unemployment.

Difficult working conditions - which include a need to keep facilities at a low temperature in order to preserve the meat - combined with higher demand for seasonal staff in other sectors, such as from retailers and postal services, has kept some temporary workers away.

Brexit has also posed a problem. "Ever since Brexit happened, it's become hard to hold on to European labour," Mr Allen explained.

The sharp fall in the value of the pound had resulted in workers being paid lesser wages, he added, while "the message coming out of the UK is not exactly welcoming".

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Other issues

Meanwhile, the British Poultry Council has also warned that finding enough workers "is becoming a massive challenge" for its members.

The group said that Brexit-related uncertainty meant that many workers were looking for jobs overseas instead of in the UK, leaving its members about 20 per cent short of regulator staff.

If such shortages continue after Brexit, the Council said it could "post a risk to the affordability of British food", particularly for seasonal specialists such as turkey and goose producers.

The National Pig Association (NPA), which represents processors, abattoirs and farmers, also said that its members were struggling to fulfil Christmas orders.

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Ed Barker, the NPA's senior policy advisor, said that though the industry coped with shortages last year, many producers were starting to struggle in 2019.

He added, "Three years of uncertainty and the fall in the sterling to euro exchange rate has changed the mind of a lot of labourers who have decided to bite the bullet and go back home.”

A version of this article originally appeared on our sister site, inews

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