Scotland’s meat processors are increasingly concerned over the existing and potential labour shortages threatening their businesses.

Newly elected Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers president, Alan McNaughton, reported that some member companies were already reporting a 10 to 12% shortfall in filling vacancies, a fact which was putting their processing systems under strain.

“Coinciding with a sudden burst of hot weather, which sent the demand for BBQ products ‘through the roof’, labour shortages are adding stress to the industry at a time when we are all seeking to recover from the impact of Covid-19 lockdowns and related regulations," said Mr McNaughton.

“Our assessment is that current labour issues are linked to the upheaval caused by the changes affecting EU workers since January 1 this year. It is an area which desperately needs to be sorted by the Home Secretary. One member told a recent SAMW executive committee meeting that the labour shortage is now his number one concern, which is quite a statement, given the Covid-19 pressures under which all businesses have been operating since March 2020.”

Mr McNaughton, who was speaking following the association’s 2021 AGM, held via zoom, also highlighted the UK Government’s approach to the negotiation of free trade agreements as another area of real concern for meat businesses.

“While we support free trade as an association, believing strongly in Scotland’s export strength and potential, it cannot be free trade at any price,” he said. “In the complete absence of any detail from the UK International Trade Minister, the reports circulating in the media surrounding current FTA talks with Australia have not been comforting for members, not least because so little is known about what is being said behind closed doors.

“What concerns SAMW members most, however, is what might happen once the Australia deal is concluded," he explained. "If it is then used as a template to close similar free access deals with the USA, Brazil, and others, the exact terms of this first significant post-Brexit FTA are going to be crucial to our industry’s future.

"We cannot, for example, accept products being imported into the UK which do not abide by our own high standards of health, welfare, and safety. A future FTA structure in which everything is welcome if the price is right, will damage our domestic industry beyond repair.

“We are already working closely with other meat trade and farming bodies on both these issues and will be pursuing them individually and jointly with the Scottish Government’s new Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Mairi Gougeon, and with George Eustice, UK Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs,” he added.