Government officials are “confident” that there will be enough food available at Christmas despite concerns about a lack of butchers.
The Government has introduced 800 temporary visas for foreign butchers and 5,500 visas for poultry workers to come to the UK after labour shortages sparked fears that animals could not be processed in time for Christmas.
Questioned by MPs on the Public Accounts Committee on Thursday, senior civil servants from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) sought to reassure politicians that the supply chain had stabilised.
David Kennedy, director-general for food, farming and biodiversity at Defra, said uptake of the poultry worker visas had been “pretty good” while his department was “feeling very positive” that all 800 butchers’ visas would be used.
He said: “I think we’re confident, and if you listened last week to the chief executive of Bernard Matthews he was saying there is enough capacity now in terms of turkeys for Christmas.
“More generally I think there is an HGV issue which is affecting the whole of the food system. We monitor that closely.
“The current supply situation is reasonably stable. It’s not at the ideal level but it’s not in a bad place at all.”
He added that the first poultry workers were expected to arrive in the UK at the beginning of November, with the pig butchers arriving two weeks later. However, Mr Kennedy said the problems in the pig industry would take six months to sort out “given what is in the system”.
Industry figures have previously warned that the backlog of animals ready for slaughter could result in as many as 150,000 pigs being destroyed.
On Tuesday, Zoe Davies of the National Pig Association said it would be early December before the pig butchers were “up to speed”.
Mike Sheldon, pork sector board chairman of the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board, told the PA news agency that the situation “should start to ease little by little” thanks to the new butchers, but warned there could be more problems around Christmas and New Year’s Eve due to staff taking time off.
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