LONDON: More than a third of UK firms in the ‘farm to fork’ sector are warning their businesses are “unviable” without access to EU workers after Brexit.
A survey, compiled by the Food and Drink Federation but including the views of companies within a range of trade bodies in the wider produce industry, showed 36% feared for their very future.
The report found 31% of firms had already lost EU staff in the wake of the UK’s vote to leave the EU in June last year while 47% warned workers were considering their future as Brexit negotiations continued.
There are currently around two million EU nationals working in the country with 20% of them in the food and drink supply chain including the soft fruit sector.
It warned in June that strawberry costs could soar by 50% if labour was to be restricted – arguing many UK workers lacked the will and the skills needed.
A separate study by the business services firm Deloitte suggested the country faced the prospect of a Brexit brain drain with a major initiative to boost skills needed if damage was to be limited.
While the Government has signalled tougher immigration rules lie ahead once the UK leaves the bloc, it has moved to reassure those EU citizens living in the country they can remain – proposing applications for ‘settled status’.
Temporary workers – such as those working in seasonal produce – are yet to learn if they would be barred.
Director general of the Food and Drink Federation, Ian Wright, said: “The UK food and drink supply chain ensures that consumers have access to the safe, affordable and delicious range of food and drink that they have come to expect.