Christmas dinner could be ruined this year as supplies of traditional turkeys could run out, an industry body says.
The problem is a shortage of skilled workers to process the meat, according to the British Poultry Council (BPC).
It said 1,000 EU workers were needed to stop Christmas supply from collapsing, and urged the government to exempt them from quarantine rules.
“The great British Christmas cannot survive without access to non-UK labour,” said boss Richard Griffiths.
He said there is a dearth of UK workers with the right training and qualifications to slaughter and process the nine million turkeys reared for Christmas.
“Turkey producers are heavily reliant on licensed and trained EU workers with specific farming, processing, and butchery skills.
“These skills cannot be replaced without a lengthy training and recruitment period.”
The seasonal turkey industry reckons it needs to bring in at least 1,000 skilled workers for the 2020 Christmas period.
But workers won’t come to Britain if they are forced to quarantine for 14 days before starting work, it said.
The type of skills turkey production requires are not available among UK workers, according to the Council.
Workers need to have been trained specifically in Watok – Welfare of Animals at Time of Killing – and licensed to kill or slaughter animals, which means holding a certificate of competence from the Food Standards Agency.
“It will be unfeasible to train and up-skill UK workers within the short window available,” Mr Griffiths said.
The poultry industry estimates it takes someone at least 12 weeks to attain basic slaughter and knife skills.
Mr Griffiths warned that if the seasonal vacancies are not filled it will have a significant impact on the production and cost of food.
“That will pose a risk to affordability and potentially force people to go without food this Christmas,” he said.
The British Poultry Council has asked the government for an urgent exemption for non-UK poultry workers from quarantine restrictions.
The proposed exemption would cover seasonal workers coming from Poland, Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Slovenia at the end of October 2020.
The BBC has contacted the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office for comment.