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UK's food supply chain and labor crisis calls for urgent action from PM, says NFU

23 September 2021
National Farmers Union

The UK's National Farmers Union (NFU) is calling on Prime Minister Boris Johnson to implement a COVID-19 Recovery Visa to address labor shortages that are adversely impacting the supply chain.

The UK’s food and farming sector has written to the Prime Minister asking him to implement as a matter of urgency a Covid Recovery Visa to alleviate crippling labor shortages across the supply chain.

This follows an emergency roundtable convened by the NFU on 21 September, 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.

The 12 organizations behind the letter are united in the short and long-term measures needed to solve this issue:

  • The introduction of a 12-month Covid Recovery Visa which would enable all involved throughout the supply chain to recruit critical roles as a short-term response to labour shortages.
  • 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.
  • 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.

Read the letter to the Prime Minister

The food and farming sector remains on a knife edge due to the unprecedented shortages of workers across the entire supply chain. The industry came together in the summer to evidence these challenges, and the final report showed that there are an estimated 500,000 unfilled vacancies across the industry.

The situation is not improving, in fact, images of empty supermarket shelves are becoming commonplace as labor shortages bite. As we move towards Christmas, there is a substantial threat of food inflation directly impacting the poorest families.

That is why the entire UK food supply chain from farm supply to retail outlets are united in calling for an emergency Covid Recovery Visa to open up new recruitment opportunities as a matter of urgency. Without it more shelves will go empty and consumers will panic buy to try and get through the winter.

It is 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.

Our industry report also highlights vital mid to long term solutions for accessing seasonal and permanent workers, and all remain equally important to ensure this situation does not arise again. But the supply chain will be critically damaged beyond recovery if it cannot overcome the immediate crisis.

There have already been long term consequences as businesses have had to take the decision to reduce production indefinitely or cease trading altogether. 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.

Signatories to the letter include:

  • Agricultural Industries Confederation Limited
  • British Frozen Food Federation
  • British Meat Processors Association
  • British Poultry Council Limited
  • Dairy UK Limited
  • Federation of Wholesale Distributers
  • Food and Drink Federation
  • National Farmers Union
  • National Pig Association
  • Road Haulage Association Limited
  • The Cold Chain Federation
  • UK Hospitality

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