Farms face an oversupply of pigs due to staff shortage

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Free range pigs in Suffolk.Image source, Getty Images

The UK's pig producers are warning that a shortage of workers is causing a surplus of pigs to be stuck at farms.

Trade body the National Pig Association (NPA) said some abattoirs were running 25% below usual capacity.

"If the government doesn't do something soon there will be a lot of perfectly healthy pigs on farms that will have to be destroyed," said Zoe Davies, chief executive of the NPA.

Each week, the number of excess pigs is growing by 15,000, the NPA said.

The shortage of workers in processing plants means they are unable to take in as many pigs to process as they normally would - resulting in too many pigs on farms.

Having to house the pigs for longer, while they grow at a rate of a kilo each day, is having a severe impact on the profitability of the farms, according to the NPA.

The industry body said extra costs of feed and abattoir charges for overweight pigs means many farms are operating at a loss.

The problem is exacerbating an excess of pigs, which had already been causing issues since the UK left the EU at the beginning of 2021, the NPA added.

"We need access to skilled labour now and we need the government to be able to supply us with the means to find these staff," Ms Davies said.

A spokesperson from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said the government understands the "importance of seasonal labour" and is "aware of the challenges" that the pork industry has faced in recent months because of the pandemic and labour shortages.

"Defra has been working closely with the pig and processing sectors during this time," they said.

"We will continue to work closely with the sector and are keeping the market under close review, recognising the pressures industry is currently facing."

Image source, PA Media

The NPA, which represents 80% of the UK's pig producers, said its members had "tried desperately" to recruit people.

"They've upped wages but there are a good proportion of people that left after Brexit and you can't just fill those jobs with thin air," Ms Davies said.

The NPA said that the wasted meat from the surplus of pigs which could have gone into the food supply chain, will result in the UK's food sector having to import more from the EU.

"We have a good supply of willing people in other countries who do want to come and want to work and they should be allowed to do that," Ms Davies added.

The meat-processing industry is calling on the government for help in facilitating workers from overseas to solve the shortages. The NPA estimate that up to 80% of staff at meat processing plants are non-UK workers.

The UK has about five million pigs in total and 40% of the pork eaten in the country is British while 15-20% is exported.

Brexit and Covid-19 and have put serious pressures on the food industry, which has already seen a shortage of fruit pickers, lorry drivers and fast-food restaurants unable to provide normal service.

Supermarket bosses have also warned that it is vital to fix the labour shortage problems before key trading over the Christmas period.

Dairy giant Arla has also had to cut back on milk deliveries to supermarkets because of the driver shortages.

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