Meat carcasses sent to EU for butchering amid UK worker shortage

Great Britain’s beef producers export to Ireland before reimporting, while pork processors consider the Netherlands

Meat processors in Great Britain are having to export carcasses destined for domestic consumption to the EU for butchering because of the shortage of skilled workers in the industry. Beef producers are exporting carcasses to Ireland for butchering and packing, says Nick Allen, the chief executive of the British Meat Processors Association, before the products are brought back to Great Britain to be sold in supermarkets.

Meanwhile, pork processors are looking into shipping pig carcasses to the Netherlands to be butchered, as first reported by the Financial Times. This is despite the government announcing a post-Brexit immigration policy U-turn last month that would temporarily extend the seasonal worker visa scheme to include pork butchers. The move was aimed at preventing a widespread cull of healthy pigs on farms because of a lack of capacity at abattoirs and meat processing plants. However, 10,000 of the animals have been killed so far, according to the National Pig Association, and the cull continues.

After last month’s visa change, 800 pork butchers are to be allowed to enter the country for six months. Yet farmers and meat processors are still waiting for the workers to arrive and do not expect any of them before the end of November at the earliest. One problem for pork producers is that any meat exported to the EU for butchering would not be allowed to be labelled as British pork when reimported to the UK for sale.

“It’s a sign of how desperate things are getting,” Allen said. “On the beef side, the Irish have access to plenty of workers. They have been granting visa licences to do what we have been asking to do and bring in butchers from abroad. They have got the plants and they are approved for the supermarkets.” The move to export meat for processing will cost an additional £1,500 for each lorryload of carcasses, including fees for transport, as well as customs requirements introduced since Brexit, such as an export health certificate for each consignment. Currently meat is checked in the EU when it is exported from Great Britain but not when arriving in the UK because the introduction of post-Brexit import controls on food and animals products has been delayed twice by the government and will now begin in July 2022.