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Labour challenges mount for Scotland’s red meat industry

The challenge of keeping Scotland’s meat factories running against a backdrop of severe staff shortages is affecting businesses right across the country, with every indication that this is going to be a prolonged issue, says the Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers (SAMW).

“The notion that the degree of staffing issues affecting the whole food industry at present will magically disappear once we accomplish Christmas, is fanciful,” said SAMW President Alan McNaughton, speaking after a meeting of the Association’s executive council.

“Member after member reported labour problems during the meeting with one major company owner commenting that this problem could continue throughout 2022 and possibly beyond. The day to day challenge at present for many businesses is to recruit staff from an insufficient labour pool. All this means is that businesses are trapped in a staffing merry go round with workers moving from one company to another and back again.

“In addition to the simple numbers of this issue, the difficulty of recruiting and retaining the right calibre of staff with the skills we require are immense.  It is easy for Government Ministers to point to the high number of people looking for work but the bottom line is that those who are available on the local jobs market either do not have the particular skills we require, or are simply not interested in working or willing in a meat production environment.

“SAMW members accept that the lack of sufficient and skilled staff is not simply down to Brexit as this has been a long term issue for us, although never to the current extent.  We can obviously do more to solve our own staffing problems by showcasing the wide variety of positions available within meat processing, while working with the likes of Skills Development Scotland to provide a more cohesive and comprehensive pathway to employment within the red meat sector.  But putting this in place will undoubtedly take time to deliver the volume of new recruits we so desperately require. The UK Government must now therefore act quickly to fill today’s void by allowing us to simply and quickly recruit staff from outside the UK to work here for at least 12 months to keep our factories running.”

Recruitment Crisis in the food and drink sector in Scotland

Joint industry letter send today (August 27, 2021) to:
Home Secretary, UK Government;
Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, UK Government; &
Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Islands

We are writing collectively to highlight the recruitment crisis in the food and drink sector in Scotland.

Both Brexit and the pandemic have accelerated existing pressures on labour availability. We have now reached crisis point putting the growth, viability and security of many Scottish businesses in jeopardy, with knock on impacts for consumers. We need action now to save Christmas.

We ask and advise that the UK Government and Scottish Government play their own parts to support recruitment in the sector.

FDF Scotland and our industry partners in the Scotland Food & Drink Partnership and beyond have consulted widely with Scottish businesses on the issues. In our recent survey of 88 Scottish businesses 93% of them currently had job vacancies, 90% of them described their job vacancies as hard to fill, and 97% of them felt that they would struggle to fill vacancies in the future. The reported jobs that were hard to fill cover all parts of the business and all wage ranges, with particularly difficult areas being in engineering and production operation. The geography affected covers the whole of Scotland.

These grim statistics back up the many reports across the Scottish food and drink industry, which tell of reduced production, reduced growth and ambition and failure to fulfil orders for customers and consumers.

The food and drink industry in Scotland is committed to sustainable growth but to do so we need the right people, skills and commitment. Many of us are members of the Scotland Food & Drink Partnership where we have a long history of supporting careers advice, education and industry partnership as part of our ‘Future in Food programme’. Recently this partnership published advice to food and drink employers on recruitment and retention. Businesses are looking at all the options they have at their disposal to retain and recruit.

It’s not working, and we are now rapidly approaching a crisis. It is now clear that many people who would traditionally have been attracted to work in the food industry from abroad can no longer do so. Online and delivery companies have also recruited workers during the pandemic and there is no sign of people returning to the industry.

As an industry we are determined to do what we can to tackle this issue and will continue to progress initiatives and support businesses, but it is very clear that we need immediate help in order to do so.

We call on the UK Government to:

• Introduce a 12 month covid recovery visa for the food and drink supply chain – to deal with immediate pressures on the industry and allow employers to expand recruitment to EU and other overseas workers
• Commission an urgent review by the Migration Advisory Committee of the needs of the food and drink sector
• Waive the fees to employment visas for the food and drink supply chain until 2022

We advise the Scottish Government to:

• Ensure support for automation is embedded in Scottish Government funding programmes where it supports productivity and the development of higher quality jobs
• Work with the Scotland Food & Drink Partnership to continue to promote the industry as a great career destination, and to provide opportunities through apprenticeships and other schemes

These are unprecedented and turbulent times and, until stability returns for businesses, we would ask the UK and Scottish Governments to support the industry and implement these measures. Without these, we strongly believe the current supply chain disruption will only worsen as we enter the peak trading period in the run-up to Christmas.


David Thomson, FDF Scotland
James Withers, Scotland Food & Drink
Scott Walker, NFUS
Alasdair Smith, Scottish Bakers
Peter Cook, Opportunity North East
Martin Morgan, Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers
Jimmy Buchan, Scottish Seafood Alliance
Colin Smith, Scottish Wholesale Association

Comment on labour shortage meeting with Scottish Government

The Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers (SAMW) took part in an all-industry meeting with Scottish Government ministers on July 8 to discuss serious concerns over labour shortages.

“The UK Government is responsible for ensuring there is sufficient food for the nation and the current situation surrounding labour shortages in the meat processing and distribution network is putting that responsible in serious danger of collapse later this year,” said SAMW. “Member companies, who process almost all of Scotland’s red meat output, currently have a labour shortfall of 10-15% in relation to staff needs for meat processing plants. In addition, labour shortages in the haulage sector is making it increasingly difficult to secure any one-off requirements to collect raw materials from farms or any equivalent one-off requirements to deliver end product to retailers.

“While the current labour shortage is already extremely worrying, our assessment is that the situation will become far worse as we move into busier meat demand periods. Member companies, operating with 10-15% fewer staff than they desire, are just about managing to meet current demands for meat. However, this is a relatively quiet time of the year, certainly as compared with the autumn and pr-Christmas period when demand can be expected to rise sharply. At that point, there is a real risk that supplies will run short and gaps will begin to appear on retail shelves.

“Even if Government acts now to address this crisis situation, it is likely that meat supplies will still be under pressure towards the end of the year. Many of our sector’s missing 10-15% of workers returned their home countries during the final weeks of the Brexit process and are not showing any signs of being willing to return.

“If the Government does nothing, however, deciding to wait and see, we believe there will be a serious shortage of product by late 2021. We repeat, it is the Government’s responsibly to ensure the country has sufficient food and this responsibility to is danger of not being met this year.

“Clearly, we need action from Government and we need it now, a point we made forcefully to ministers this morning. Our priority request is to that we need access to EU workers to operate our businesses this year. One option is to provide such workers with short term visas – say for two years. We also need the government to include butchers, etc. on their shortage occupation list (SOL).

“We have been told many times, of course, to go out and recruit staff from the existing UK workforce. While we continue to do this as part of our own efforts to resolve the current crisis, members’ experience to date is that the skill sets required by meat processing companies are not currently available in the UK, certainly not widely available. We are also competing for staff with many other sectors of the UK economy who are currently under-staffed, such as the hospitality sector and online businesses. Finally, training new staff to work in meat processing is at least an 18-24 month operation, a timeline which does not equate with the food needs of the country’s consumers.”

SAMW president voices concern over labour supplies and free-trade negotiations

Rising concern over existing and potential labour shortages affecting Scotland’s meat processors has been highlighted by Alan McNaughton, newly elected president of the Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers (SAMW), as a major priority for urgent government action.

“Some of our member companies are already reporting a 10-12% shortfall in filling vacancies, a fact which is putting their processing systems under strain,” he said, following the Association’s 2021 AGM, held via zoom.

“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.

“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 also highlighted the UK Government’s approach to the negotiation of free trade agreements (FTAs) as another area of real concern for association members.

“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. 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.”

Charities zoom in to share over £8,000 funding support

Gift support totalling £8,300 has been distributed by the Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers to four charities, using a zoom session to acknowledge the vital work being done by each organisation and to celebrate the slightly different transfer of funds this year.

“While we weren’t able to meet face-to-face this year, our annual distribution of funds, donated by the Association’s members, was successful in what really matters,” said SAMW vice-president, Billy Stewart, who hosted a special charity zoom meeting to ensure the cash reached its destination in traditional style.

“All four charities are battling hard to continue their work in the face of the current Covid-19 disruptions, making this year’s funding allocations by SAMW even more important than normal. We’re delighted to be able to give our support to these crucial charities, each of which was nominated by an SAMW member with a special or personal reason to be grateful for the work they’re doing.”

Left to right – Top row – Morag McGown, MND Scotland; Billy Stewart, SAMW Vice President; Vicky Burford, PANS PANDAS UK. Second row: (l-r) – Nina Clancy, RSABI; and David Roberts, Prostate Cancer UK.

This year’s charities were:

MND Scotland (£3000)

MND Scotland is the leading charity in Scotland providing care and support to people affected by Motor Neurone Disease (MND), as well as funding vital research into finding a cure.

“Your donation is helping to support everyone in Scotland who is affected by MND,” said Morag McGown, the charity’s corporate partnerships manager. “We provide a range of practical, financial and emotional support services for people affected by MND across Scotland and will continue to fight to give people with MND access to effective treatments, remaining determined to beat MND once and for all.”


Prostate Cancer UK (£3000)

“Prostate cancer is now the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the UK and due to the impact of Covid-19, our life-saving research is at risk,” said David Roberts, the charity’s community fundraising assistant.

“The support received from SAMW has enabled us to protect research into better tests and treatments, to stop prostate cancer being a killer. Thank you from everyone at Prostate Cancer UK.”


RSABI (£1800)

“We’d like to say a huge thank you to all the members of SAMW for their generous donation,” said RSABI Chief Executive, Nina Clancy. “The Association’s continued support is very much appreciated by everyone at RSABI. The funds will help us provide vital services to people in the agricultural industry during these uncertain times.

“RSABI is here for everyone in the industry, including meat processors. If you’re struggling please don’t hesitate to get in touch. Our service is provided confidentially, and we can help with a wide range of issues including mental well-being, money worries and employment concerns.”

RSABI provides emotional, practical, and financial support to people in Scottish agriculture. The service is available to those previously and currently involved in farming, crofting and occupations involved in agriculture in Scotland. RSABI’s helpline is open every day of the year from 7am to 11pm on 0300 111 4166 and offers a call out service for the lonely and vulnerable.



“PANS and PANDAS are a set of neuro-psychiatric conditions which cause a mis-directed immune response, resulting in life-changing symptoms such as OCD, tics and eating disorders,” said Vicky Burford, the charity’s Secretary. “PANS PANDAS UK offers support to sufferers and their families, as well as educating medical professionals about these complex and widely mis-understood conditions.

“On behalf of everyone at PANS PANDAS UK and all the families in the PANS PANDAS Community, we thank SAMW for once again supporting us.”


Industry call for six-month grace period

SAMW has joined 10 other organisations across the Scottish food and drink sector as signatories to an urgent letter to the Prime Minister highlighting the challenges faced by the industry as a result of Covid-19 and the looming threat of the end of the Brexit transition period.

The letter calls for a six-month ‘grace period’ to be sought concerning new export rules with the EU, backed by the observation that 2020 hasn’t been an effective transition period, largely due to the pandemic. As a result, with 50 days to go, we have no trade deal. Common sense is needed to avoid huge losses.

Access joint-letter

Scots meat exports face substantial market turbulence

Scotland’s meat wholesalers have warned the Secretary of State for Scotland, Alister Jack, that the red meat sector is heading for ‘substantial market turbulence’ during the UK’s exit from the European Union.

Writing to the Secretary of State, Andy McGowan, President of the Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers (SAMW) stated that unless the UK Government provides ‘much-needed clarity’ concerning the practical and technical aspects of how Scottish companies can continue to trade with customers in the EU, the whole of Scotland’s farming and meat processing chain will be plunged into a period of ‘great uncertainty’.

“If left unresolved, this lack of action could cause untold and long-lasting damage to the livestock supply chain throughout the UK, and especially here in Scotland where livestock farming is central to the viability of rural communities,” continued Mr McGowan.

“Trade with our customer base in Europe was worth an estimated £85 million in 2019, so greatly helps to underpin some 3,000 jobs across the Scottish red meat processing sector along with 1,000s more in the primary livestock farming sector. We therefore believe that it is crucial that all current red meat export activity to the EU market is maintained.  This will provide viability for the UK red meat sector, and primary livestock producers, during what is already a period of great uncertainty which could, if not carefully managed by the UK Government, lead to substantial market turbulence.

“Furthermore, there is a significant amount of intra-company trade between processing plants in Scotland and Northern Ireland and the lack of clarity around practical procedures required to move meat between these two parts of the United Kingdom is a serious concern.”

The SAMW letter also included the comment that this new request for support from the Secretary of State for Scotland follows a similar request to the Defra Secretary of State, George Eustice, made by the British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) in England and Wales. Mr McGowan pointed out, however, that the BMPA request, which was made a number of weeks ago, was still ‘regrettably’ awaiting a reply.

SAMW’s list of ‘practical requests’ includes:

The letter also stated that the current framework, as proposed by Defra, to implement the Northern Ireland Protocol, needs to be ‘urgently revised’ to remove existing anomalies and grey areas of interpretation  which could give processors in NI a commercial advantage over their counterparts in GB.

Finally, Mr McGowan made the point that all the issues raised by the Association’s letter were ‘within the gift of UK Ministers’ and were therefore separate from the ongoing trade negotiations between Brussels and Whitehall.

In addition to being delivered to the Secretary of State for Scotland for his urgent attention, the letter has been sent to the five Conservative Party MPs representing Scottish constituencies and to Ian Blackford, SNP lead in the House of Commons.

Highlighting Scottish red meat industry’s positive credentials

Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) has launched a series of new look infographics highlighting the Scottish red meat industry’s positive credentials relating to animal welfare, sustainability, and nutrition.

The infographics combine a colourful style with easily absorbed information about the production of red meat in Scotland, highlighting the priority the industry places on animal health and welfare and the great environmental role played by farmers. With many consumers increasingly looking for information on where their food comes from, the infographics are designed to communicate all-important facts relating to the Scottish red meat industry.

The infographics will be posted on the QMS and Scotch Kitchen social channels and SAMW is delighted to play a part in sharing these assets, helping to spread these messages as far as possible.

Need to safeguard Scottish red meat standards as trade talks progress

Scottish red meat production, processing and retailing must be fully protected against any health, welfare and environmental compromises linked to future trade deals says the Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers (SAMW).

“Our industry, from farm to plate, has worked extremely hard in recent years to implement a wide range of health, welfare and environmental standards,” said SAMW President, Andy McGowan. “As a result, we have greatly advanced the status of our domestic industry and do not want to see what we have achieved being thrown away on future trade deal compromises.

“While we welcome assurances being given by the UK Government that all future food imports will comply with the UK’s high safety standards as they seek to establish new global trading relationships, any similar assurances in relation to animal welfare, health or environmental protection are conspicuously absent.

“Throughout the past 30 years, and more, our industry has embraced high standards of quality assurance at every point in the supply chain, establishing procedures and practices which are now firmly embedded in our industry. Pasture-based production systems are the hallmark of the Scottish red meat sector, with farmers utilising the natural environment in a sustainable fashion, and continuing to seek further improvements, addressing the climate challenge we all face.

“We are raising livestock in Scotland without the use of artificial growth hormones, while the use of antibiotics for anything other than essential health treatment under veterinary supervision has been banned for many years. We are also applying ever-increasing welfare standards which we must protect as the UK moves towards many potential new trading relationships.

“Unless these issues are fully addressed and nailed down now, however, our industry will be placed at considerable economic risk while consumers will be left with an import-driven supply chain which is neither controlled nor controllable by the UK Government.

“Livestock farming is at the very heart of rural life in Scotland, without which many communities would collapse. Given that we produce some of the tastiest and nutritionally rich red meat in the world, we believe we have nothing to fear from fair competition, based on the same health, welfare and food standards which the UK public expect of our own industry. So long as these rules and regulations are embedded in the UK’s new trade deals, however, we look forward to the future and the new export opportunities which are promised.”


“At least 15% of our pre-Covid normal sales outlets for beef has ‘vanished’ due to the closure of hotels and restaurants, with sales to other catering and event outlets also being closed off for the time being,” said Martin Morgan, Executive Manager of the Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers (SAMW).

“The reduction in demand for high value cuts, hides and fifth quarter material due to the Covid-19 impact is a worry for the entire supply chain. As a result, far from a making huge profits at present, as some have suggested, many processors are struggling to make any sort of a margin at all. Many of our members’ plants are now operating to a reduced schedule with one business manager reporting that he’s cut the weekly throughout of cattle by 30% since the Covid-19 lockdown began.

“This turn of events is borne out by the market information published by Quality Meat Scotland and AHDB, alongside commercial reporting by organisations such as Kantar, all making it clear that prices across the retail sector are already under pressure.

“For example, AHDB’s latest beef tracker report shows the price of roasting joints sitting at £8.90/kg, for the week to April 18, compared to £9.45/kg at the end of March. The sector has at least recovered from the £7.17/kg low reached during the week to April 11.

“Even cuts that are in high demand such as standard mince and diced beef, which are boosted by home cooking demand, have declined in value by 5% since the end of March, with standard mince settling at £4.04/kg.

“The harsh reality of today’s lopsided market is that most member companies’ cold stores are almost completely full with traditional high-value cuts that cannot find a buyer. While high demand for mince and roasting joints is clearly welcome, the collapse in demand for high end steaks is creating an extremely costly carcase imbalance.

“To account for lost sales of high value products, the retail price of mince would need to be increased sharply to return cattle values to pre-lockdown levels.

“These are the stark realities for the entire Scottish red meat supply chain as the country embarks on another week of Covid-19 lockdown.”