`The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee in the House of Commons took evidence on labour constraints in animal welfare on February 28, two weeks before the Board of Deputies and Jewish Leadership Council joint report on Brexit was published.
During the oral evidence, discussions moved on to how Brexit would affect the meat industry.
Fiona Steiger, deputy director of the British Meat Processors Association, was very clear that the main change would be “the lack of supply from overseas in order to bring in people in the numbers we need, as easily as we need and with the skills we need”.
We are already struggling to recruit people with the skills that we were used to having before the referendum.
They are staying for less time, so that is our biggest problem, just finding and bringing in labour. Some people are paying 12 per cent extra for skilled staff.
This is not a Jewish community problem, it is an issue for the entire industry.
There are others, for example a shortage of vets, with industry bodies estimating that 30 per cent of vets are EU nationals. There is a Food Standards Authority vet in every abattoir – fewer vets will have a knock-on impact. That is just the effect on the UK meat industry, let alone any trade deals or imports.
When looking at the Board/JLC report on Brexit, it is possible that “a post-Brexit liberalisation of the meat trade could also reduce kosher meat prices” as it says.
Possible, but not plausible. Could Britain suddenly subsidise imports from countries like Poland and Israel, bringing down the cost of kosher meat from those countries? Yes. Is it likely? No.
The meat industry as a whole is not preparing itself for that type of change. It is far more likely that duties will stay the same or increase. Changes to the pound against the euro will also affect the cost of kosher meat.
Sadly, both at home and abroad, the meat industry is readying itself for increases to cost throughout the production chain. We hope they will not be passed on to the consumer, but commercial reasons may mean that it has to be considered.
There are also political risks, Shechita UK has been outspoken on the issue and has been consistent since day one. Brexit poses dangers to Shechita in the UK.
The group is working incredibly hard on the political issues that have arisen and particularly the impact of labelling meat products as calls have grown significantly since the Brexit vote.
At this stage, a lot of what has been discussed and written about Brexit is speculation. In the meat industry, we are more aware than most of what is going on and negotiations will shape our sector for the foreseeable future.
We know that the Jewish voice is well represented and we hope to be able to continue to provide affordable meat to British Jewry for the foreseeable future.
Jackie Lipowicz is chairman of the Licensed Kosher Meat Traders Association