Pig farm protests: Nottinghamshire farmer calls for temporary visas to be issued to skilled butchers

A pig farmer in Nottinghamshire has joined calls for temporary visas to be issued to skilled butchers, to help stop up to 100,000 animals being killed and incinerated in the UK. 

Farmers are warning that a shortage of butchers could see animals being slaughtered on farms and then incinerated because they cannot go to the abattoir and there's nowhere left to house them.

Des Allen, who farms near Newark, says abattoirs are operating at a reduced capacity, which has had a knock-on effect on his business.

He said there are a number of issues at play: “I think that it is because certainly for the past decade the abattoirs have been dominated predominantly by Eastern Europeans and now they've all went back, partly because of Brexit and partly because of COVID and not returned again.”

Why is there a crisis in pig farming?

Over the past couple of weeks, farmers - in particular the pig farming industry - have been warning that the UK is heading into a welfare disaster that could see a mass cull of over 100,000 animals in the coming days.

The industry has said pigs will have to be killed and incinerated by farmers because of a shortage of abattoir and butchery workers, which is causing a huge backlog of healthy pigs being held back on farms, unable to be sent to abattoirs, and getting too big to be housed.

Rob Mutimer, the chair of the National Pig Association (NPA) told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme last week the situation is an “absolute travesty”.

Mr Mutimer added that his pigs are usually around 115kg when they go to slaughter, but are now getting up to around 140kg.

“The pens and the sheds and everything just weren’t designed for animals of this size and we’re really heading into an acute welfare disaster very quickly”, he said.

Why can’t enough pigs be slaughtered at abattoirs as normal?

In an open letter, Mr Mutimer said that since the beginning of August, 25% less pigs were being processed each week and the situation had now "reached the point where some farmers are facing a welfare cull of their pigs for rendering because they have simply run out of space and have no ability to shut off the pig supply coming through".

Is Brexit to blame for the crisis?

Industry experts have said there are several reasons for staff shortages, including the Covid pandemic, global, industry factors as well as the end of freedom of movement brought on by Brexit.

Editor of Pig World, the official magazine of the National Pig Association (NPA), Alistair Driver, wrote in an article: “But Brexit has – undoubtedly – been a significant factor, not least the loss of access to EU workers in our plants that has left them short of capacity and unable to process the pigs that are coming through on farms. And this is not about wages or conditions”.

The British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) warned last month that staff shortages in the industry were “already reaching 15% and above”, hampering food production and putting meat companies “around six weeks behind their Christmas production schedules”.

The BMPA’s chief executive, Nick Allen, recently said the problems were down to the refusal of the Home Office to allow in skilled workers from abroad to address the labour shortages.

The NFU’s Ms Batters called the situation ‘exceptionally serious’, explaining that the industry is seeing “43% vacancies in the processing sector, that is butcheries where there is a massive shortfall and … 35% shortfall in the workforce that’s seasonal workers, farm workers, and then 11% on drivers”.

“It is why the whole industry … have all come together and said ‘we need an emergency scheme, a Covid visa scheme in order to keep the show effectively on the road to get through this short-term period’”, she added.

Most big players in the industry, including the NPA, BMPA, and the Country Land and Business Association (CLA), have all issued statements calling on the government to introduce a Covid visa recovery scheme to help ease the current labour shortages and allow more butchers into the country.

In response to Des' calls, the government told ITV News Central they're keeping the situation under review and working closely with the sector.

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