Choice of food for Christmas could be limited – and turkeys may have to come from Europe, expert says

There could be less choices available for Christmas dinner this year due to labour shortages following Brexit, the boss of the British Meat Processors Association has warned.

Chief executive Nick Allen told Sky News that turkeys will likely have to come from Europe during the festive period, while some foods like pigs in blankets may not be available.

He said: “We’re not saying that there’s not going to be food on the table at Christmas, but we’re struggling to put the party food together – the pigs in blankets, the netting of gammons.

“But I suspect that food can be imported and probably the turkeys might not be British turkeys but they may end up being French, or even turkeys from further afield.

“We’re not saying there’s going to be desperate shortages, but there certainly won’t be the choices available for British food, that’s for certain.”

He also said pig farmers could be forced to cull around 100,000 healthy pigs due to a shortage of butchers and abattoir workers.

He said there is a “massive problem” with farmers being unable to process “somewhere around 100,000” pigs which may have to be culled.

Farmers have warned up to 120,000 of the animals may have to be slaughtered on farms and then incinerated.

Mr Allen said: “We know there’s a large number of pigs, somewhere around 100,000 are struggling to get processed at the moment and we know our plants are working at full capacity as best they can with the labour they’ve got.

“So, there is a massive problem out there with farmers … It’s difficult to see at the moment how we’re going to get ourselves out of this difficult circumstance.”

It comes as pig farmers protested outside the Conservative Party conference in Manchester.

Tens of thousands of butchers are needed to fill the gaps and it takes around 18 months to train each one, Mr Allen said, as he accused Boris Johnson of being unaware of the problems.

“We’ve been talking to government on a daily basis about the problems we’ve been having, so I’m somewhat surprised that he (Mr Johnson) wasn’t aware of the situation,” he said.

“We’re short of skilled-up butchers and these aren’t people you can just pull off the street and put in the process. It takes time to train these people and we’re about 10,000 to 15,000 people short.

“It takes 18 months to train a butcher and get them up and running, so we’re looking for some help here to manage the transition, not just stopping everything overnight.

“We’ve had a long-term reliance on non-UK labour and it’s going to take a long time to adjust.”

When he was asked about the warnings on the BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show on Sunday, Mr Johnson said: “I hate to break it to you but I am afraid our food processing industry does involve the killing of a lot of animals. I think your viewers need to understand that.”

When it was explained that the problem was that they could not be sold for food and would have to be disposed of, he accused the presenter of “trying to obfuscate”.

He added: “The great hecatomb of pigs that you describe has not yet taken place, let’s see what happens.”

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