The United Kingdom is set to import turkeys for the Christmas season because of insufficient domestic production. Industry experts say growing demand during the holidays necessitate importing turkeys from some European countries. They add that the shortage of turkeys serves as evidence of a wider crisis across the food supply chain.
British Poultry Council Chairman Graeme Dear told lawmakers that there’s a “likelihood” of domestic turkey production falling short as Christmas nears. Given this situation, he warned that supermarkets may have to rely on turkey imports from its European neighbors.
“The irony is [that] we may find ourselves having to import turkey from France and Poland for a British Christmas, probably with some of the very workers we trained and left to go back to their homelands,” Dear told members of Parliament during a hearing. Dear and other industry leaders claim a combination of Brexit and strict immigration controls, plus the Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, is to blame for the crisis.
British food company Iceland Foods said its Christmas turkey sales have seen a 409 percent increase from its 2020 record. It ordered 20 percent more frozen turkey than the usual. Iceland Foods said a spike in online searches for Christmas as early as July 2021 have prompted the extra orders.
Many foreign workers returned home because of the COVID-19 pandemic, reducing the number of farm workers available. British farmers decided to raise fewer chicks in 2021 – around 20 percent less than the previous year – due to the insufficient number of workers in processing plants to handle them.
In response, the British government announced that 5,500 short-term visas for poultry plant workers would be given out. However, the move comes too late in helping increase the number of turkeys being bred.
National Farmers’ Union Vice President Tom Bradshaw said more foreign workers are needed – around 50,000 to 60,000. Under the British government’s seasonal worker scheme, 30,000 foreign workers are allowed to help out in farms. Bradshaw’s group has been involved in efforts to bring in more foreign workers.
Despite the shortage of turkeys on supermarket shelves, the Express reported that live turkeys are still available for purchase on farms. However, it noted that the Britons should order ahead of time to celebrate Christmas with turkey on their tables.
Richard Botterrill, who owns G.B. Geese Farm in Lincolnshire, said he has received orders for turkeys a month ahead of the holiday season.
“This time of the year, we’d be sending out our flyers and getting people up to speed with what we’re doing, with the view of people ordering the next few weeks into November. We’re certainly finding that people are ordering a lot earlier, probably about a month earlier than what they would do normally,” he said. “We are probably about 10 or 15 percent ahead on numbers of where we were this time last year.” (Related: Thanksgiving might be very different this year thanks to turkey shortages, higher food prices.)
He also commented on the shortages of frozen turkey in supermarkets. “I don’t think there will be shortages – but if you want a particular thing, like a free-range bronze turkey, you need to order it because there is only a finite number of those. Once we’ve lost our number that we can produce, that’s it. If that occurs at the beginning of December, we’ll have to shut our order book. We can’t magic them out of thin air.”
Traditional Farm-fresh Turkey Association Chairwoman Kate Martin also weighed in on the issue.
“This year, it’s looking like there is a national shortage of turkeys when we’re talking about supermarket shelves, rather than buying directly from your farm. It is the supermarket shelves that will be emptier on turkeys this year than they have been before, only because there have been fewer turkeys placed on the ground [and] only because the big processors know that they will not get them processed,” she said. (Related: Food shortages are widespread and have gotten worse during the pandemic.)
“We’re small producers, we use local labor. [But] for the big processors, it is 100 percent caused by a labor shortage. This situation with turkeys is caused by the fact that European labor is no longer available to us, and they are skilled workers who have been coming to us for years.”
FoodSupply.news has more articles about shortages of turkey and other products in supermarkets.