Farmers in Britain face the prospect of culling and incinerating 150,000 healthy pigs this week unless their government takes emergency action to address the acute shortage of workers in meat processing plants.

National Farmers Union (NFU) president Minette Batters has called for “short-term, emergency action – now” to address the worker shortage, which is affecting the entire food chain from farms to delivery drivers.

Batters said there is a 43% job vacancy rate in the meat processing sector, where skilled butchers are the most short in supply, but also a 35% shortfall in seasonal workers for farmers and an 11% shortfall on lorry drivers.

The British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) says there are 15,000 vacancies in meat processing factories following Brexit and the coronavirus pandemic, when many of its foreign workers left Britain to go home.

I don’t believe anyone can preside over a welfare cull of healthy livestock

Speaking to the BBC’s Newsnight, Minette Batters said farmers in Britain were potentially facing a welfare cull of 150,000 pigs this week unless some action was taken.

“I don’t believe anyone can preside over a welfare cull of healthy livestock. I don’t believe this has happened in the world before and it cannot happen now,” she insisted.

On Sunday, prime minister Boris Johnson gave farmers little hope that he is prepared to step in.

Speaking on the Andrew Marr Show, Johnson said: “What we can’t do … in all these sectors, is simply go back to the tired, failed old model, reach for the lever called ‘uncontrolled immigration’, get people in at low wages. And yes, there will be a period of adjustment, but that is, I think, what we need to see in this country.”

Farmers have reacted with dismay to the the prime minister's comments on the BBC show, in which he appeared to pay little heed to the difference between pigs being slaughtered for food and pigs being culled and incinerated.

Poultry worker scheme

Last week, the British government announced a temporary work visa scheme for up to 10,500 lorry drivers and poultry workers from the EU.

Under the scheme, EU workers can work in the UK for three months, until Christmas Eve, in an effort to avoid shortages in the run-up to Christmas.

Irish problem

The Irish Farmers' Association (IFA) has warned that pig farmers here are also facing serious issues with moving pigs off farm on time, saying that worker scarcity is affecting both farms and meat processors.

IFA national pigs committee chair Roy Gallie has said that if something is not done about visas for foreign factory workers, 50,000 pigs will have been stockpiled by the new year.

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