Ministers are reportedly considering backtracking and extending temporary visas to overseas butchers, as abattoirs were forced to cull livestock after shortages.
Pig farmers have been forced to kill healthy livestock because of a lack of butchers in abattoirs, seemingly forcing ministers to change their stance on intervention.
The National Pig Association told The Guardian that it had heard unconfirmed reports that the government was “set to issue a number of temporary visas to allow processors to employ foreign nationals in abattoirs to help with the processing of the backlog of pigs on UK farms”.
“There is a feeling that at long last government is listening and they are assuring us that they are looking at options,” a source from the processing industry told The Guardian.
Some 1,000 temporary visas could be issued, according to speculation.
Meat processing staff and butchers are not eligible for the government’s seasonal worker pilot scheme, which provides 30,000 annual permits for overseas workers to work in the produce sector.
At least 600 health pigs have already been slaughtered and thrown “in the bin” after farmers had to take action to avoid surpassing legal limits for stocking density.
If pigs over-fatten on farms, then abattoirs charge penalties for handling the animals. The National Farmers Union warned that up to 150,000 animals may have to be culled by pig farmers who cannot afford the costs.
Overseas workers have left posts at abattoirs in the UK and returned to their home countries thanks to Brexit and the pandemic, farmers have said.
Other sectors to have struggled with staff shortages in recent months include supermarkets, who have been faced with a shortage of HGV drivers. The driver shortage has impacted businesses from diary farms to pubs.