Pig farmers have today been forced to begin the UK’s first cull of healthy animals since records began, as acute labour shortages leave abattoirs unable to process enough of the country’s meat.
Around 600 healthy pigs have been slaughtered and had their carcasses thrown “in the bin” today, as farmers were forced to begin killing animals on their farms to avoid spilling over the legal limits for stocking density.
Zoe Davies, chief executive of the National Pig Association, said farms were “totally full to breaking point” after they accumulated at least 120,000 surplus pigs due to the shortage in butchers.
She estimated that these hundreds of thousands of pigs will face the same fate in a mass culling over the coming weeks if the situation does not improve.
“Stage one was about trying to find as much as extra space and temporary accommodation as we could for the pigs,” Davies told City AM.
“But we’ve now reached stage two – we have no more space left, and the pigs are getting bigger. It’s such an incredible waste.”
Davies warned that it would “destroy people” if the situation escalates to a mass culling where farmers have to slaughter the animals they’ve reared on their own farms.
“It’s happened through no fault of theirs, they’re contracted to rear pigs, not be responsible for other parts of the supply chain,” Davies said.
Animal farmers and trade bodies have called on the government to intervene with a post-Brexit 12-month recovery visa to allow foreign workers into the UK to alleviate the severe butcher shortage at abattoirs.
But ministers have insisted that the government will not give in and relax immigration rules, and shifted the onus onto farmers to resolve the supply chain issues with the introduction of more automation technology or higher wages.
Yet the industry has already increased automation and wages “exponentially over the last few months”, Davies said, as abattoirs have failed to attract workers despite wide-ranging recruitment campaigns.
Rubbing salt in the wound, prime minister Boris Johnson has repeatedly appeared to doubt the severity of the situation, and even argued that the animals were “going to die anyway.”
Pressed on the issue by Times Radio this morning, Johnson said: “I’m afraid they’re eaten very often in this country — I don’t know, do you have a bacon sandwich?”
This dismissive attitude has riled pig farmers, who have picketed the Conservative party conference to demand the government take the issue more seriously.
“Contrary to what the prime minister is saying, these animals are going in the bin,” Davies said.
“It’s almost like it’s a joke to them – it’s really difficult to watch.”