Food Standards Agency staff strike vote could lead to Christmas turkey shortages, Unison warns

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The meat industry is at risk of standstill over a staff pay dispute, Unison warns

A strike by staff at the Food Standards Agency (FSA) could lead to meat shortages at Christmas, a union has warned.

The staff, who are represented by Unison, are being balloted for strike action over a dispute over pay.

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A strike by Food Standards Agency staff could lead to meat shortages at Christmas (Photo: Adobe)A strike by Food Standards Agency staff could lead to meat shortages at Christmas (Photo: Adobe)
A strike by Food Standards Agency staff could lead to meat shortages at Christmas (Photo: Adobe) | Magdalena Bujak - stock.adobe.co

Earlier this year staff voted to reject a pay offer between 2% and 5%, which is far below the rate of inflation which is currently at 10.1%. The union is demanding a rise of 10%.

Hundreds of inspectors, vets and office-based staff in England, Wales and Northern Ireland are involved, and could bring the industry to a halt if they vote to walk out.

The staff last went out on strike in 2014. The latest ballot opened on 10 October and will close on 31 October.

In a statement, Unison said the strikes could take place in the run-up to and over Christmas, which could result in a shortage of meat over the festive season.

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Unison head of local government Mike Short said: “FSA staff play a vital role in keeping contaminated meat off people’s plates. But many have to work in difficult and unpleasant conditions inspecting carcasses for signs of disease.

“These employees protect consumers, ensure good animal welfare, and must be rewarded accordingly. The FSA needs to come up with a significantly higher offer to avoid any disruption.”

Robert Locker, head of field operations at the Food Standards Agency said that the organisation has contingency plans in place if the workers decide to strike.

He said: “We are aware that Unison is currently balloting its members and the ballot closes on 31 October.

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“We await the ballot result and notification from Unison of its next steps. Should Unison decide to take industrial action, our contingency plans will help minimise any disruption to meat supplies.”

Bird flu threatening turkey supplies

Christmas turkey supplies could also be impacted by a bird flu outbreak in the UK. An avian flu “prevention zone” has been declared across Great Britain as the country continues to battle a “devastating” outbreak of the disease.

Officials announced it will now be a legal requirement for all bird keepers to follow strict measures to protect flocks from bird flu, including keeping free range birds in fenced areas and stringent biosecurity for staff on farms.

The move by the chief veterinary officers of England, Wales and Scotland comes following an increase in the number of cases of avian flu being detected in wild birds and commercial premises in recent weeks. Officials warned the disease had “over-summered” in wild birds for the first time and the new winter outbreak was starting earlier than in previous years.

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The UK has faced its largest ever outbreak of the disease in the past year with 190 cases confirmed across the country since late October 2021 – 30 of which were confirmed since the beginning of this month. There are currently 47 cases in the UK, 43 of which are in England, two in Scotland and one each in Wales and Northern Ireland.

The National Farmers’ Union has warned that Christmas turkey supplies could be a risk if the outbreak continues. James Mottershead, chairman of the NFU Poultry Board, told Sky News: “It is a risk. If bird flu, for example, gets into turkeys that could cause holy carnage; that could cause real supply chain issues in the run-up to Christmas time. The realities of it are quite severe.

“I do know of some instances where seasonal turkey producers have been affected by this, so far, this year. If you have an outbreak on your farm and your farm is classed as an infected premises, it is serious - you could be out of production up for up to 12 months.”

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