A shortage on butchers has led UK farmers to cull 40 000 pigs and there are still 200 000 stuck on farms in danger of meeting the same fate.

40,000 healthy pigs have been culled and their meat thrown away while 200,000 are backed up on farms due to a lack of butchers to process them. Industry leaders blame the country’s dysfunctional immigration system that has been ‘exacerbated massively’ by the pandemic.

They also launched a broadside at the government for not understanding of how food production works. The sector is rapidly ‘deteriorating’ with stockmen set to downsize their herds next year, paving the way for an influx of poorer quality foreign meat.

Pig farmer Tom Allen from Oxfordshire says he’s struggled getting works since before Brexit and coronavirus. “Even before Brexit and Covid-19 I was having difficulty attracting people to work in the industry. I pay well and look after our staff, but around 40 per cent of our roles were filled with European labour and now this has gone. I advertise our job roles in various ways, but only receive a small number of applications. Roles are multi-skilled. People need to be able to care for the animals to the highest welfare standards, run complicated computer systems, but also be willing to get their hands dirty in more manual jobs.”

“This is holding the business back, making it hard to progress and leaving a reliance on expensive relief labour to fill the gaps. I’ve tried mechanising the business, but in the pig sector manual roles are still really important and it is difficult to mechanise further as profit margins are so small. Working with the younger generation is key to solving the issue. I’ve recently partnered with a recruitment agency to bring on apprentices. We’ll train them in the sector, send them on relevant courses, and we hope this helps with job retention going forward.”

National Farmers’ Union president Minette Batters told the Today programme: “It’s not getting better. It’s a very very serious situation. We’ve had 40,000 pigs culled that have been simply thrown away, we’ve got 200,000 backed up.” She continued “This truly is an utter disgrace and a disaster for the pig industry”, adding: “The impact on these pig farmers is so precarious and we have to resolve it.” Ms Batters, who will give the keynote speech at the NFU conference in Birmingham, said one farmer of 52 years had culled 4,700 sows.

The BBC interviewer tried to pin the blame for the crisis on Brexit, with the NFU chief saying: ‘It is an immigration problem. “It’s exacerbated massively by the situation with Covid, which is why the whole industry asked for a Visa recovery scheme to get through this. But ultimately the situation with leaving the EU, the new immigration policy, which of course is different, has created this problem.”

Asked it could lead to farmers rearing smaller herds, she said: “Without doubt. We’ve seen a massive contraction in the pig sector already, 10 per cent contraction. So it is contracting further and yet you’ve got retailers – M&S the other day can’t fulfil their British commitment. They’ve committed to 100 per cent British and they’re struggling to fulfil it. So while we produce less here, we’re the only country in the world that has outdoor pigs, the only ones with the climate to do it. So we’re contracting our sector with higher standards, bringing in more imports produced to lower standards that is not what the British public wants. We will get at some stage to this fully automated world, we’re not there yet. So we need to work together to plan for that and avoid the situation that is going on at the moment because it’s a lose lose for everyone.” She added: “Ultimately this isn’t just about farmers this is about the 60 million people that live here, on an island that need to be fed.”

NFU President Minette Batters launched ‘British farming: a blueprint for the future’ with five key areas to fix:

  • Commitment and investment from both government and retail to sell more British food at home and abroad;
  • Using the powers in the Agriculture Act to enable farmers and growers to trade fairly;
  • A new economic model that drives investment back into the land, ensuring the tenanted sector is not disadvantaged;
  • A dial-up, dial-down immigration policy;
  • Future farm policy with a properly funded Sustainable Farming Incentive.

Ms Batters will say today the Government needs to urgently implement a clear plan for British farming and food production – or face sleepwalking into more crises. “British farming has a lot to be positive about, to be proud of, and to believe in. Our high standards of food production, our net zero ambitions, our education programme which reached a third of a million children last year. But Government does need to understand that we need certainty, commitment and consistency. We need a plan that preempts crises rather than repeatedly runs into them. The current situation in the pig sector should have, and could have, been avoided.”

Ms Batters has blamed the Government’s ‘poorly designed change to immigration policy’, and a lack of understanding of how food production works, for the crisis. “This country needs a strategy and a clear vision for what we expect from British farming.There needs to be a plan, a plan which enables Britain to keep on farming and to continue to be world leaders in high quality, safe and sustainable food.”

The NFU conference is also set to hear from Environment Secretary George Eustice.

Original source: https://www.dailymail.co.uk