The UK government has been warned that the food chain faces collapse without continued access to EU labour following Brexit.
In an open letter, the heads of over 30 representative bodies called on the government to recognise the role migrant workers play in delivering affordable, high-quality food and drink, and to offer unambiguous reassurance that they will be able to stay and work in Britain as part of any future controls on immigration.
The letter stated that without access to a reservoir of skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled labour from the EU, the food industry could not continue to function effectively.
The hospitality industry alone generates one in eight of all new jobs in the UK, many of which are filled by EU nationals.
The group said it was vital that the whole of the food and drink supply chain received equal treatment with financial services or the automotive sector should a work permit system to control immigration be adopted in the future.
Signatories called for all options to be explored including a workable points based system for shortage occupations, sector-based and seasonal/guest worker schemes and effective transitionary arrangements.
A large number of leading trade bodies signed the letter including the British Beer and Pubs Association, the Food and Drink Federation and the National Farmers Union.