Farm leaders have welcomed a move to allow up to 800 overseas butchers into the UK to clear a backlog of pigs waiting for slaughter on farms across the country.
A lack of labour in abattoirs and meat processing plants has led to tens of thousands of slaughter-ready pigs piling up on farms, with the National Pig Association (NPA) warning more than 120,000 pigs face being culled and destroyed.
Farm and meat industry leaders have been lobbying politicians to intervene, including a protest outside the Conservative Party conference earlier this month, and the UK Government has now announced measures to help the sector.
These include providing temporary visas for up to 800 pork butchers – taken from the existing Seasonal Workers Pilot Scheme – to work in the UK for up to six months, and the introduction of a private storage aid scheme in England for meat processors to store slaughtered pigs for three to six months so they can be preserved safely and processed at a later date.
The UK Government said it would also work with industry to introduce processing of animals on Saturdays and longer working days at abattoirs and meat plants, where possible.
NPA chief executive, Zoe Davies, welcomed the package of measures and said she hoped they would help reduce a significant backlog of pigs on farms.
“We are working with the processors to understand the impact of these new measures and to determine exactly what will happen now, and how quickly, so that we can give pig farmers some hope and stem the flow of healthy pigs currently having to be culled on farms,” added Ms Davies.
Scottish red meat levy body Quality Meat Scotland (QMS), which oversees and promotes farm-assured Scottish pork under the Specially Selected Pork brand, said visas for extra butchers would help Scottish meat processors who have been experiencing post-Brexit staff shortages.
QMS brand development manager, Gordon Newlands, said meat companies were operating with a fifth less staffing than required.
He added: “QMS will continue to work closely with Government, processors and retail partners to support the whole supply chain and find solutions to safeguard processing, minimise livestock backing up on farm, protect animal welfare and keep products on shelves.”
NFU vice-president, Tom Bradshaw, said the package of measures needed to up and running as soon as possible.
He added: “I would also urge retailers to play their part in supporting the sector at this time by sourcing British pork and I would ask the public to make a conscious effort to look out for British pork when they are doing their shopping to back British farming.”
They said pig farmers will not be required to pay their statutory levy during November, in a move worth just under £1 million, in response to the continued build-up of pigs on farms, falling prices and high production costs.
QMS chairwoman, Kate Rowell, said: ““The pig sector plays an important role in Scotland’s agricultural industry and this relief will help support producers as they work tirelessly to look after the animals in their care.”