Europe

Pigs pile up as Brexit and COVID leave UK farms with butcher shortfall

A massive shortage of abattoir butchers has lead to a backlog of pigs on UK farms.

Pig farmer Sophie Hope told Euronews the industry is on the brink of disaster unless the British government acts soon.

With EU workers quitting the UK because of Brexit and the COVID pandemic, there is a shortage of butchers in processing plants.

It has led to a backlog of pigs and, with space running out, some farmers have had to cull the animals instead of selling them for their meat.

“It’s been a struggle, not going to lie – the cause of a few sleepless nights and anxiety-filled days,” said Sophie, the owner of AA Farms in Gloucestershire. “There are so many pigs backed up on the farm and there’s nowhere else to put them.”

She would like to see the government relaxing visas restrictions for European workers with the skills to solve the problem, or pig farmers will be forced to incinerate thousands of animals.

“The biggest problem is right here right now, it’s actually been building for several months already and we’re at a critical phase now. We need to get butchers into processing plants in order to get through that backlog of pigs,” Hope stressed.

According to the National Pig Association, around 80% of skilled abattoir butchers are from Europe.

The shortage of foreign workers has also impacted the other half of Sophie’s business, the production of poultry.

Her hens lay fertilised eggs for farmers who grow chicken for meat, but the supply chain seize up has meant she has had to throw hundreds of thousands of eggs away.

“I employ 20 people here, they work really really hard, day in day out. Early mornings and they work hard to make these birds happy and produce lots of eggs – and collecting them all. Ending up seeing these eggs thrown in the bin is so demoralising for us all,” Sophie said.

Part of the reason the pigs and poultry sectors have been the worst affected by the shortage of EU migrant workers is because these animals grow quicker.

Beef and lamb farmers also fear that further down the line they will also begin to struggle as a result of the EU worker shortage.

The government has said it is aware of the issue and is working closely with farmers to find a solution.

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