A strike by staff at the Food Standards Agency (FSA) could lead to Christmas meat shortages, their union has said.
The staff, represented by Unison, are being balloted for strike action over a pay dispute after rejecting an offer far below the rate of inflation.
Hundreds of inspectors, vets and office-based staff in England, Wales and Northern Ireland are involved, and could bring the industry to a halt if they vote to walk out.
Earlier this year they voted to reject a pay offer of between 2 per cent and 5 per cent. The union is demanding a rise of 10 per cent.
A positive vote in the ballot, which closes on 31 October, would see staff strike for the first time since 2014.
Britain is heading for a winter of discontent as up to one in 16 employees, or 1.9 million people, are either set to strike or be balloted for industrial action in the coming months.
Teachers, nurses and junior doctors are among those threatening action in the fight for pay rises to help workers counter the impact of soaring inflation.
The Trades Union Congress (TUC) is holding its annual meeting this week in Brighton. A motion calling for it to coordinate industrial action by striking unions this winter is thought likely to pass on Wednesday.
Unison, a TUC member which represents service workers, said the FSA strikes could take place in the run-up to and over Christmas.
“FSA staff play a vital role in keeping contaminated meat off people’s plates,” Unison head of local government Mike Short said.
“But many have to work in difficult and unpleasant conditions inspecting carcasses for signs of disease.
“These employees protect consumers, ensure good animal welfare, and must be rewarded accordingly. The FSA needs to come up with a significantly higher offer to avoid any disruption.”
Robert Locker, head of field operations at the Food Standards Agency said that the organisation has contingency plans in place if the workers decide to strike.
“We are aware that Unison is currently balloting its members and the ballot closes on 31 October,” he said.
“We await the ballot result and notification from Unison of its next steps. Should Unison decide to take industrial action, our contingency plans will help minimise any disruption to meat supplies.”