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Labour crisis: Scottish red meat sector prepares for challenging winter

Labour shortages in the red meat sector could be compounded by increased supplies of animals heading for slaughter, warns Quality Meat Scotland.

The Scottish red meat sector has a challenging autumn and winter ahead as increased supplies of livestock heading for slaughter are likely to compound the ongoing labour crisis, warns Quality Meat Scotland (QMS).

The warning from the red meat levy body comes against the backdrop of labour shortages in the sector which have left more than 100,000 pigs backed up on British farms waiting for slaughter.

QMS senior economics analyst, Iain Macdonald, said supplies of prime cattle and lambs were likely to increase in the weeks and months ahead and there were concerns this could lead to a back-log of animals waiting for slaughter and pressure on prices.

“Labour shortages in processing businesses are of particular concern given that the seasonal supply of livestock usually rises in the final quarter of the year to meet increased meat demand over the winter,” said Mr Macdonald.

“There are also concerns around shortages of drivers to transport livestock and meat around the country.”

He said data from Scottish auction marts, covering the past five years, suggests a 10% increase in the number of prime lambs being sold is typical between September and the three-week pre-Christmas peak in Scotland – the increase is higher in England and Wales at around 20%.

Prime cattle slaughterings tend to increase by up to 10% at the Christmas peak.

Data from abattoirs shows prime cattle slaughter numbers tend to be 10% higher in the three-week pre-Christmas peak, when compared to September, and the peak period tends to start in the middle of November to allow time to mature the beef from the slaughtered cattle.

“As we have seen in the USA during the pandemic, and in the pig sector in Britain, a surplus of livestock over and above the operational capacity of the processing sector can lead to a backlog of slaughter-ready animals on farm, pressuring the price paid for them, irrespective of the level of consumer demand,” said Mr Macdonald.

Earlier this week, pig farmers protested outside the Conservative Party conference over the labour crisis crippling the sector.

They argued a lack of skilled butchers could lead to the “emotional and financial disaster” of tens of thousands of UK pigs being killed for waste.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson also appeared to be unaware of the problem when he was questioned on BBC One’s The Andrew Marr Show on Sunday.

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