British meat producers are being forced to ship carcasses to the EU to be butchered before re-importing them again because of the post-Brexit labour crisis.
The British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) said a number of “major” firms were sending beef to the Republic of Ireland due to an acute shortage of local skilled butchers.
“It’s all a bit desperate,” BMPA chief executive Nick Allen told The Independent. “The labour is over there [in Ireland] so it makes sense to have prime cuts shipped over so it can be butchered and brought back here.”
Some British meat producers have sister companies in the Republic of Ireland where they can access skilled butchers, he added.
‘Doesn’t go very far’
But the costs involved in moving carcasses between the UK and EU means firms are spending £1,500 for each lorry load of meat.
Allen told The Independent that some British pork producers are considering whether they may have to send pigs to the Netherlands for butchering.
He warned the UK’s meat production workforce is down by around 15 per cent from normal levels – putting it about 10,000 skilled workers short of what the industry needs.
The BMPA called on the government to relax immigration rules so the industry can recruit experienced workers without having to train them to solve the labour crisis.
Ministers last month agreed to issue 800 temporary visas for skilled overseas butchers to work in the UK for six month to ease the problem, but the industry body said it barely scratched the surface.
“We have been saying we are between 10,000 and 12,000 short of these skilled or semi-skilled butchery workers – 800 doesn’t go very far,” said Allen.
“The government is resolute that we need to pay people more and we need to recruit from the home market,” he added. “But it’s just very difficult to get people at the moment, and the training of new people will take some time.”
Meanwhile Lord Frost will meet France’s Europe minister Clement Beaune in Paris in an attempt to end a bitter dispute over post-Brexit fishing rights.
France has threatened sanctions over what it perceives as a refusal to issue licences to its trawlers to operate in UK waters.
The UK government insisted the overwhelming majority of applications for licences have been granted.
French president Emmanuel Macron has delayed the imposition of punitive measures while talks between the UK, France and the European Commission take place.
But the French government has insisted the measures – which could include a ban on British trawlers landing their catches in French ports and tighter customs checks to hamper cross-Channel trade – remain “on the table” if a deal cannot be reached.
Lord Frost will follow his talks with Beaune on Thursday by heading to Brussels on Friday to meet European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic.