A Yorkshire farmer has been forced to cull hundreds of piglets because post-Brexit labour shortages in local abattoirs mean adult pigs aren’t being slaughtered fast enough.
The backlog is leaving less space on farms for younger pigs, which are cheaper and easier to kill.
The farmer has been “destroyed by it”, a friend told BBC News. “He had to kill perfectly healthy, viable piglets. It’s desperate. I’ve been producing for 26 years, and never faced the prospect of having to butcher pigs on my own farm before.”
According to the British Meat Processors Association (BMPA), around 80 per cent of staff in two big processing centres in Hull came from Eastern Europe before Brexit and the coronavirus pandemic.
But Nick Allen of the BMPA said the workforce is 15 per cent down on its usual size – and animals are mounting up on farms as a result, meaning farmers are “quietly starting to cull”.
“The main barrier is labour, with the change in the immigration policy. We are struggling to get butchers in particular, and it limits how fast you can run the plant,” he said.
“We were offering higher wages, but with the job market at the moment, it’s not worked. We do need access to some non-UK labour.”
Meryl Ward, who runs a family farm in Lincolnshire with 1,600 pigs which should have been slaughtered, said producers are “in despair”, calling the situation “criminal”.
She said the current crisis is the worst in 35 years of farming – with parallels being drawn with the 2001 foot-and-mouth crisis, and called for temporary work visas to be introduced to help pig producers.
“It’s such a massive national problem, it needs action and leadership from government.
“If they really care about farm animal welfare, if they really believe in UK animal production and the standards that we have are worth saving, we need some action,” she said.
A Defra spokesperson told the BBC that the government is closely liaising with the industry to help ease existing “pressures”.
Ministers are discussing plans to ease visa restrictions to let up to 1,000 foreign butchers into the country – but Priti Patel is reportedly resisting the move, citing concerns it is part of a wider push to return to free movement.
Butchers are considered skilled workers under the UK’s points-based migration system – and ministers are considering relaxing a requirement that they should speak a good level of English so more can come to the UK.