A “chronic shortage” of migrant workers is jeopardising UK meat production, the British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) has warned.

Meat-processing companies have witnessed a steady increase in the number of EU migrant workers returning home, it claimed in a letter to the Migration Advisory Committee expressing concern over the shortage of skilled labour in abattoirs and boning facilities.

As a result, one of Britain’s largest processors had experienced a 27% production decrease since the beginning of the year, which had led to a weekly reduction in revenue of £40,000, the BMPA claimed.

Echoing concerns expressed by the fresh produce sector that crops could be left unpicked if the shortage was not addressed, it urged the committee to acknowledge the problem and to look favourably upon applications for work permits from non-EU workers to ease the crisis.

The BMPA’s plea came as Improve, the food and drink sector skills council, published a report last week warning how the flow of workers returning to their native countries could lead to serious labour shortages.

One in 10 food and drink sector workers is classified as a migrant, it said, calling on the Home Office and the Department for Innovation, Universities & Skills to engage with industry leaders to discuss the government’s policies.

“Northern Ireland Food & Drink, for example, has been quite frank in its claim that, without migrant workers, the country’s meat industry would collapse, taking 20% of the UK’s red meat supply with it,” said Jack Matthews, chief executive of Improve.

The English meat sector has also expressed concern. “Migrant workers are an essential resource for our business due to a shortage of available local labour and we’d support the observation that this source of labour is tightening,” said a spokesman for 2 Sisters.