UK on brink of ‘acute welfare disaster’ as labour shortage plunges pig farms into chaos

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The National Pig Association (NPA) said a “mass cull” may be needed to ease the pressure on pig farmers forced to cope with a growing number of extra animals due to delays in the supply chain. NPA chairman Rob Mutimer told Radio 4’s Today programme surplus pigs may have to be “shot on the farms” as processing plants report major delays due to a shortage of labour. Several sectors have reported disruption, citing repeated lockdowns over the past 18 months as well as Brexit as the main reasons behind the loss of labour.

Mr Mutimer said: “This is happening on pig farms all over the country, farms of all different sizes being backed up and running out of space for their animals, which is a real worry coming into winter.

“It involved either shooting pigs on the farm or taking them to an abattoir, killing the animal, and actually disposing of them in the skip at the end of the chain.

“These animals won’t go into the food chain, they will either be rendered or, if not, sent for incineration. It’s an absolute travesty.

“On our farm, our pigs are usually around 115kg when they go to slaughter and they’re now around the 140kg mark so the pens and the sheds weren’t designed for animals of this size and we’re really heading into an acute welfare disaster very quickly.”

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Pig farmer Meryl told the Today programme she is now dealing with a backlog of 1,600 surplus pigs and the situation is due to get worse if no steps are taken.

She said: “It’s getting pretty desperate.

“We have about 1,600 animals that have come to weight that should have actually gone off the farm already.

“It’s a weekly cycle so we have more animals adding to that number every week. We’re adding to the backlog every week.

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“This started 11 weeks ago, and the reason we were given is that the processing plant that our animals go to had a shortage of labour and they didn’t have the people to actually butcher and deal with the meat in the supply chain.”

The supply chain in Britain has been suffering severe delays due to a shortage of labour across the board, from butchers to HGV drivers.

The Government last week announced the Home Office will be issuing up to 10,000 emergency visas to European lorry drivers in a bid to bring the crisis under control.

Farmers have asked the scheme is extended to agricultural workers as well amid concerns the loss of labourers from the EU over the past year would hinder operations in the fields.

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The Government is “continuing to work closely” with the pig industry amid a reported shortage of butchers which could impact food supplies over Christmas.

Ministers are considering plans to ease visa restrictions for up to 1,000 foreign butchers, according to The Times.

A spokesman for the Department For Environment, Food and Rural Affairs told the PA news agency it was aware of labour shortages.

“We understand the importance of seasonal labour and we are aware of the challenges that the pig industry has faced in recent months because of the Covid-19 pandemic and labour shortages, and Defra has been working closely with the pig and processing sectors during this time,” he said.

“We are keeping the market under close review and continuing to work closely with the sector to explore options to address the pressures industry is currently facing.”

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