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Travel rules changed for Christmas turkey farm workers

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Travel rules have been relaxed for people arriving in England to work on poultry farms to ensure there is enough turkey available for Christmas dinners.

From 04:00 on Tuesday, seasonal workers from abroad can start work straight away during their 14-day quarantine.

The transport secretary said the new measures will ensure food producers can "keep up with the Christmas demand".

Industry groups had previously warned of turkey shortages without enough skilled workers to process the meat.

Under the new rules, seasonal staff must still self-isolate from the rest of the public for the first 14 days.

To avoid any potential spread of coronavirus, they also have to form "cohorts", or live and work with a group of the same workers during their time in England. They will not be allowed to mix with other employees.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: "Christmas dinner is the highlight of the year for many families and this year it will be particularly significant."

He added that the new measures would support businesses who "have faced unprecedented challenges from coronavirus".

'Determined to deliver Christmas'

The boss of the British Poultry Council (BPC) had urged the government to exempt seasonal workers from quarantine rules in October.

Richard Griffiths warned that 1,000 workers from the European Union were needed to stop Christmas supply from collapsing.

On Tuesday, he said he hoped that the new exemption would be "helpful" in the run-up to Christmas.

"Industry is determined to deliver Christmas to households across the nation. If the exemption helps us deliver a fantastic Christmas and helps our smaller seasonal producers out, then it can only be a good thing."

About 5,500 seasonal workers arrive on farms in England each year to help during the festive period, according to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

The type of skills turkey production requires are not available among UK workers, the BPC has previously said.

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.

"The UK meat industry needs access to reliable skilled workers wherever they come from in order to keep the flow of food from our farms to our plates," said Tony Goodger of the Association of Independent Meat Suppliers.

He added: "What we need now is a clear steer that the system will be in place much earlier in 2021 should we need it."

This year, all non-UK seasonal poultry workers are required to leave England by 31 December, at which point the exemption will no longer be in force.

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