PPlans to bring in butchers from the EU to avoid a meat shortage this Christmas are under threat amid an upsurge in Covid cases across Europe, industry bosses have warned.
A new visa program will allow 800 foreign butchers to come to the UK for six months to help tackle labor shortages during the holiday season.
However, a fourth wave of Covid cases on the block and the travel restrictions imposed as a result of the Omicron variant could create problems for the program, it is feared.
Nick Allen, managing director of the British Meat Processors Association, told the Telegraph: “Most of these people always seem to come from Europe or Eastern Europe, and things are changing fast in terms of Europe. so that’s one of the things that could really derail that.
Mr Allen warned that many butchers would delay their arrival in the UK until after Christmas time – leaving suppliers under pressure as they “try to prepare as quickly as possible”.
He added that the meat industry would prioritize Christmas favorites over other choices.
“People have reduced the choices and the number of lines to try to maintain the volume of products,” he added.
“There probably won’t be too many shortages on the shelves, but there won’t be a choice of alternatives. “
The food and hospitality industries have come under pressure over the past three months due to chronic labor shortages and supply chain issues.
Earlier this month, hotel bosses warned that there were “no guarantees” on Christmas deliveries and that “acute” warehouse staff issues persisted.
Kate Nicholls, managing director of trade body UKHospitality, said the UK hospitality sector is currently experiencing vacancy rates of 10%, which represents a shortage of around 200,000 employees across the country .
The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has also warned meat and poultry producers that a shortage of veterinarians could lead to disruptions to their operations in the weeks leading up to Christmas.
FSA COO Dr Colin Sullivan wrote to turkey, pork, beef, chicken, lamb, goose and duck producers in England and Wales to inform them that “ongoing resource challenges” could result in a “small number of short service interruptions in the weeks leading up to Christmas”.
By law, slaughterhouses in the UK must have a veterinarian on site.