Tens of thousands of healthy pigs have been culled in a crisis over a lack of butchers in pork processing plants, farmers have revealed ahead of a summit on the issue.
The National Pig Association (NPA) said the backlog of pigs ready for processing, which are having to be held on farms because of worker shortages, is now estimated at more than 200,000 animals.
The industry body said it knew of 35,000 healthy pigs which have been culled on farms as a result of the backlog, although this is likely to be an underestimate, and 40 independent producers have recently left the sector.
Producers are being hit by shortages in EU workers, caused by Brexit and the pandemic, to process their pigs and by high costs of feed for animals that are having to be kept on farms for longer before being sent to abattoirs.
Healthy pigs are being culled by farmers who have run out of space, creating food waste, while producers are also being penalised for overweight animals processed late, the NPA said.
The NPA and National Farmers’ Union (NFU) have secured an emergency summit at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) which will be attended by representatives from major retailers and pork processors.
The NPA has called for action to reduce the backlog in pigs, sell more British pork in supermarkets and directly support producers who are suffering the most during the crisis.
The Government should look at providing financial support for the most badly affected producers and simplify the skilled worker visa route to make it easier to recruit much-needed butchers, the organisation urged.
The NPA said processors need to set out and stick to a plan to get rid of the backlog of pigs contracted to be sent to them, agreed with producers.
And retailers should move more lines from EU to British pork, with a halt to selling imported joints that need to be butchered here – using up limited butchering resources on pork imports instead of homegrown meat, the NPA said.
NPA chairman Rob Mutimer 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.”