A crisis is emerging in the UK’s pork industry and hundreds of thousands of pigs are set to be killed if government doesn’t act decisively.

Britain’s pork sector is still in crisis as 200,000 healthy pigs are backed up on farms and could now face destruction – after the Government’s plan to attract foreign butchers only brought in around 100 people.

Ministers are set to meet with farmers for a crisis summit at 12.45pm today at the York headquarters of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA). Farming minister Victoria Prentis had agreed to a request by the National Pig Association (NPA) and National Farmers’ Union (NFU) to tackle the issue of pig backlogs on farms – and what can be done to bring in more butchers.

The NPA says that the situation needs to change ‘rapidly’, adding that the backlog is now ‘well in excess of 200,000 pigs’, while 40 independent producers have recently left the industry and 30,000 sows – 10{85424e366b324f7465dc80d56c21055464082cc00b76c51558805a981c8fcd63} of the English herd – have been lost.

Ministers had last October unveiled plans to allow 800 foreign butchers into the UK to tackle the meat crisis, offering six-month emergency visas to avert a mass pig cull caused by a shortage of labour and market disruption. But Dr Zoe Davies, chief executive of the NPA, now says that ‘quite simply not enough’ butchers were brought in by the scheme, adding that just over 100 people actually came after the seasonal worker visas were made available. Dr Davies told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, “There will be more coming but it’s had absolutely no impact on the backlog of pigs on farms or reducing that at all.” She said ministers need to make sure that the measures they put in place ‘actually work’, adding that measures which fail are a ‘waste of taxpayers’ money’.

When asked if farmers were going to have to slaughter yet more pigs and not use them for food, she replied: “Yes. That’s the awful reality of it. We are already killing healthy animals, they are already going for rendering, and that will only increase. The situation is deepening on farms but it’s also a deepening financial crisis for those farmers who have been 12 months now with no profits at all and they’re basically having to make decisions – do we feed the pigs and get in even more debt, or do we kill them?”

“We’ve already lost 10{85424e366b324f7465dc80d56c21055464082cc00b76c51558805a981c8fcd63} of the English sow herd, 30,000 sows have gone, we know that more and more producers every day are having to make really tough decisions. They just cannot afford to continue producing pork for the sector – and all for a situation that was caused by absolutely no fault of their own.”

Dr Davies told MailOnline that a crisis which had hit the industry recently – a shortage of CO2, which is used for the stunning of pigs – had been ‘resolved for now’ after US chemical manufacturer CF Industries struck a deal with CO2 suppliers earlier this year. Dr Davis said that she will tell ministers today that they need to make sure the measures they put in place ‘actually work’, adding that the situation has been caused due to ‘post-Brexit immigration policy’. “It’s their fault that we ended up with no people in the processing plants to do the butchery, but there’s also others in the supply chain that have a responsibility so we would like the government to effectively ask the rest of the supply chain to do far more than they’re already doing and that includes both the processors and the retailers,” she said.

NPA chairman Rob Mutimer, who will be attending the roundtable with NPA chief executive Zoe Davies, said: “This summit is an important opportunity to bring everyone together and really thrash out solutions to a crisis that has just been getting worse and worse on farms. The situation is dire. Getting the backlog down by the summer will simply be too late for many pig farmers. This is a crisis unfolding in front of our eyes – and we must act collectively now to save the British pig industry.”

The NPA said in a statement it will ‘seek a number of commitments from Government and the pork supply chain to address the crisis currently crippling the pig industry’ at the emergency summit.
They added: ‘The NPA, NFU and pig producers will be joined by representatives from all the major retailer and pork processors at an industry roundtable meeting at Defra’s headquarters.

The NPA, which has held preliminary discussions with interested parties ahead of the summit, is seeking action to reduce the pig backlog, sell more British pork in retail stores and directly support producers who are suffering the most during this crisis. Current forecasts suggest that, unless things change rapidly, little real progress will be made in reducing the pig backlog, now estimated to be well in excess of 200,000 pigs, until late-spring, early-summer. Meanwhile, more and more farmers are running out of space and being forced to cull healthy pigs.

Farmer’s pleading for help

Desperate farmers are pleading with the Government for help, complaining that morale is ‘absolutely in the gutter’ as they choose between continuing to feed their ever-growing hungry and heavy pigs – costing hundreds of thousands of extra pounds – or cutting their losses and destroying them.

Farmers from around the UK are gathering in York to demonstrate as representatives take part in a roundtable discussion with Defra about what they say is a crisis in British pig production. Kate Morgan, who farms near Driffield, East Yorkshire, said “We need to let them know how important this meeting is to our industry. We’re protesting to show our support and let them know that this meeting is vital to the industry. It’s going to be devastating. They must do something.”

Pig farmers raised concerns last year when a shortage of butchers left farms overflowing with piglets and raised the prospect of large-scale culling. Around 20 to 30 farmers gathered outside Defra’s York office wearing T-shirts saying: ‘Save Our Bacon’. One demonstrator was dressed as a pig as banners were unfurled outside the office building.

Ms Morgan said: “It’s got lots worse, unfortunately. We’re in a really desperate position. There’s been about 35-40,000 pigs that we know that have been culled on farms and wasted. Forty independent farmers have decided to pack in and get out of pigs, which is devastating for the industry. We have just run out of space. Financially, emotionally, mentally, its just the worst place we’ve ever been in as an industry. It’s destroying people.”

“Last week, we actually arranged renderers and wagons to come and collect 700 pigs. We managed to get around that but we’ve just pushed the problem down for a few weeks. The Government needs to step in. They need to, first of all, find out why the measures they were asked to put in place haven’t been taken up and they haven’t worked. And they then need to put some stiff rules in that the processors and the retailers need to work together to clear the backlog.”

“Further down the line, we must investigate the supply chain. We are merely trying to supply our contract numbers and we’re the ones that are dealing with the issue on the farm – mentally, financially – yet the processors and retailers are still making profits. It’s criminal.”

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