LONDON, Oct. 1 (Reuters) – British pig farmers on Friday warned of a pork crisis unless the government urgently addresses an acute shortage of slaughterhouse workers and butchers that has left up to 150,000 pigs saved on farms and faced with costly slaughter.
Brexit and the pandemic have combined this year to leave severe labor shortages in the UK economy, with a shortage of drivers disrupting fuel and supermarket supplies.
In the food sector, a sudden exodus of workers from Eastern Europe after the easing of COVID-19 closures has left many pig farmers fighting for their survival, and on Friday they urged retailers not to not turn to the cheaper pork from the European Union.
The National Pig Association said the industry was raising wages and trying to increase training and automation to help fix an industry that has always struggled for the workforce.
In the meantime, however, farmers face a severe shortage of butchers and slaughterers, leaving up to 150,000 pigs that should already have been slaughtered yet on farms.
The threat of pig slaughter evoked memories of the foot-and-mouth disease crisis in Britain in 2001, when some six million pigs, cattle and sheep were slaughtered, generating images of dead animals on fire piled up in the fields for months.
More recently, farmers in the United States had to abort baby pigs and kill other animals when the pandemic disrupted food industry supply chains.
The British association, which has urged the government to relax immigration rules for six to nine months to roll back the industry, said talks with the government were deadlocked.
“I get calls, day in and day out, from farmers across the country who are in a perilous position where they just had too many pigs on their farm,” Rob Mutimer, president of the association and farmer in Norfolk , told Reuters.
He said the industry had always known it would lose European workers after Britain voted to leave the European Union, but the lifting of COVID-19 travel rules earlier this year prompted people to many people, who had not been home for 18 months, left in droves.
“The entire food industry simply cannot cope with such a huge loss of labor in the short term,” he said.
“Yes, the industry needs to train English people, and it needs to become more automated, we know that, and it’s happening, massive investments are being made in these facilities to reduce reliance on them. foreign labor. “
Mutimer said some factories were raising wages by 15% and looking to invest more in technology as they faced the fact that the industry had depended on cheap labor for too long. For now, however, they need government and retail support to keep buying.
Adding to the pressure, he said his own farm’s food costs had risen 35% last year.
“It crucifies my finances because the food cost of feeding those extra pigs is horrendous, the cash flow from not selling enough pigs is horrible, and on top of that the pigs were in a position where they were. weren’t making any money anyway, “he said.
Reporting by James Davey and Kate Holton; edited by Guy Faulconbridge, Louise Heavens and Angus MacSwan
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