UK ‘could face national shortage’ of turkeys in lead-up to Christmas

Poultry is in especially high demand for Christmas 2021 (Picture: Getty)

A turkey association chief has warned people to order their Christmas bird ‘very quickly’ or risk missing out.

A shortage of skilled European farm hands leaves supermarkets in a perilous position, the Traditional Farm Fresh Turkey Association chairwoman Kate Martin suggested.

Other factors worsening the situation include a lack of CO2 linked to low global gas supplies, which has left abattoirs without the carbon dioxide they need to stun and humanely kill poultry.

Mrs Martin said ‘unprecedented numbers’ of turkey orders have already been placed this year.

Some farms have reported taking five times more orders than at this point in 2020.

The association, which represents producers of high-end free range turkeys, said supermarkets will be hardest hit by the labour shortage.

She said: ‘This year it’s looking like there is a national shortage of turkeys when we’re talking about supermarket shelves, rather than buying direct from your farm.

‘It is the supermarket shelves that will be emptier on turkeys this year than they have been before, because there have been less turkeys placed on the ground, only because the big processers know that they will not get them processed.’

Christmas is at threat for the second year in a row after families spent 2020 under Covid-19 restrictions (Picture: Getty)

Asked whether supermarkets will run out of turkeys before Christmas, she said: ‘I think everyone needs to get their orders in very quickly. We have seen an absolutely unprecedented number of orders come in.

‘Come Christmas, if you leave ordering your turkey from your local farm supplier, you are going to be out of luck.’

On whether Brexit is to blame, Mrs Martin said: ‘We’re small producers, we use local labour, but for the big processors it is 100% caused by a labour shortage.

Bronze turkeys at Mark Chilcott’s Glebe Farm in the village of Owermoigne near Dorchester (Picture: AFP)
Turkeys at Heart of England Farms in Warwickshire who have been breeding them for the last 30 years (Picture: SWNS)

‘This situation with turkeys is caused by the fact that European labour is no longer available to us, and they are skilled workers who have been coming to us for years.

‘People are now missing a whole host of their workforce that they have been training and investing in over the last however many years.

‘Those workers are no longer available for us to use on a seasonal basis – they will go find work on mainland Europe instead.’

Last night the government announced a temporary visa scheme for 5,500 poultry workers to take up employment in Britain until Christmas Eve.

The policy, a softening of the government’s hardline anti-immigration stance, was quickly criticised.

One person said: ‘Come and raise our turkeys, slaughter, pack and deliver them, but then clear off home by Christmas morning and don’t come back. My God, what a truly nasty little nation we’ve become.’

Traditional Christmas plans also face being undermined by a dearth of lorry drivers after thousands returned home post-lockdown.

MORE : Scramble for foreign lorry drivers to ease shortage ‘too late to save Christmas’

MORE : Army could be drafted in to help deliver fuel amid HGV driver shortages

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