The UK’s £13.7bn poultry meat industry has been warned a decrease in migrant labour could destabilise the sector.

Anew study by Improve found there was an estimated 24,000 foreign nationals working in the industry, employed in more than half the meat and poultry companies surveyed. This over-reliance on migrant labour has created concern, as the number of migrant workers has started to fall, and sparked fears of a labour shortage and loss of productivity in the industry.

The report found there was a 4% drop in applications from EU accession states nationals to work in the food and drink industry between 2006 and 2007.

Applications had soared due to the admission of a number of Eastern European countries to the EU in 2004. However, the climate has changed, with growing economies in countries such as Poland making the UK job market less appealing.

Non-EU nationals‘ applications for work in the meat and poultry sector fell by almost 60% in the same period.

Jack Matthews, chief executive of Improve, outlined the issue, emphasising companies turned to migrant labour “out of necessity”, due to a lack of workers with specialist skills at home.

More than three quarters of meat and poultry companies which employed foreign nationals said migrant labour was positive for their business, with one third of all companies surveyed agreeing a decline in migrant labour would negatively impact productivity.

Mr Matthews emphasised this warning should serve as a catalysis for self analysis: “This is a good time to look at whether we are over-reliant on the influx of workers from abroadand consider what we can do to boost the domestic labour market.”

He also advocated lobbying the government to make sure policies on migration would allow for a “fairer, more open labour market”.