Published: 09:44, 23 September 2021
| Updated: 11:22, 23 September 2021
Supermarket shelves will go empty and consumers will panic buy to try and get through the winter unless the Government takes urgent action to alleviate labour shortages, the food and farming sector has warned.
The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) has called for an urgent Covid Recovery Visa to allow firms to recruit from outside the UK to alleviate “crippling” labour shortages across the supply chain.
The head of the NFU, Minette Batters, has written to Prime Minister Boris Johnson warning that the food and farming sector is on a “knife edge” due to a shortage of workers across the entire supply chain.
Every day there are new examples of food waste across the industry, from chicken to pork, fruit and vegetables, dairy and many other products. The food is there, but it needs people to get it to the consumers
The letter, signed on behalf of 12 food and drink trade bodies, urged the Government to introduce a Covid-19 recovery visa to open up new recruitment opportunities as a matter of urgency.
The letter reads: “Without it, more shelves will go empty and consumers will panic buy to try to get through the winter.
“That is why we must have an urgent commitment from you to enable the industry to recruit from outside the UK over the next 12 months to get us through the winter and to help us save Christmas.”
The letter follows an emergency roundtable convened by the NFU on September 221 with representatives from the UK food supply chain to discuss the growing crisis, which has resulted in empty shelves in supermarkets and, in some cases, food left on farms unable to be picked up or processed.
It says a 12-month Covid Recovery Visa would enable all involved throughout the supply chain to recruit critical roles as a short-term response to labour shortages.
It also calls for a commitment to a permanent, revised and expanded seasonal worker scheme for UK horticulture to ensure it is flexible and large enough to meet the industry’s workforce needs.
And it wants an urgent review by the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) on the impact of ending free movement on the food and farming sector, in the same way it is doing for adult social care.
Ms Batters said it was “a travesty that this is happening in parallel with UK food producers disposing of perfectly edible food as it either cannot be picked, packed, processed or transported to the end customer”.
“Every day there are new examples of food waste across the industry, from chicken to pork, fruit and vegetables, dairy and many other products.
“The food is there, but it needs people to get it to the consumers,” Ms Batters said.
The letter was signed on behalf of other groups such as the British Frozen Food Federation, the British Meat Processors Association, Dairy UK and the Food and Drink Federation.
A Government spokesman said: “The UK has a highly resilient food supply chain, which has coped well in responding to unprecedented challenges.
“This year we expanded the Seasonal Workers Pilot to 30,000 visas for workers to come to the UK for up to six months.
“We continue to work closely with industry to understand labour demand and supply, including both permanent and seasonal workforce requirements.
“However, we want to see employers make long term investments in the UK domestic workforce instead of relying on labour from abroad and our Plan for Jobs is helping people across the country retrain, build new skills and get back into work.”
The NFU’s letter comes as Tesco warned the Government that it has a shortfall of 800 drivers and is concerned about panic buying in the run up to Christmas if the nationwide HGV crisis is not addressed.
The UK’s largest supermarket also called on the Government to temporarily make it easier to bring in workers from abroad to ease the issue.