Delays in getting pigs slaughtered in the UK will continue until the spring, a senior government minister has said.
Defra Secretary George Eustice said up to 800 migrant workers for pork processing factories are due to arrive in the UK from next month under a new temporary visa scheme.
Other measures to alleviate pressures in the pig sector have been announced for England only, including private storage aid for pigmeat and an incentive scheme for factories to put on extra kills.
“We have used and deployed every tool to try and deal with this issue. There isn’t much more that we can do beyond that,” Eustice maintained.
“The projections that we have got, based on the policies that we have announced, are that this will be an improving situation and we will have solved the backlog by the end of February or March,” he said.
Another issue is China continuing to suspend pork imports from UK factories that had COVID-19 outbreaks last year. MPs were told that this adds to labour problems in abattoirs as pigmeat for the Chinese market typically requires less butchery than cuts destined for other outlets.
“It is something that we have been raising consistently with China. It has been difficult to get them to re-list some of those abattoirs, but we are making progress,” Eustice said.
During the meeting with MPs, Eustice faced a barrage of questions about the government’s handling of ongoing labour shortages within the UK agri food sector.
Conservative MP Neil Parish accused the government of not doing enough to help farmers and processors get access to foreign labour, which was having an impact on local food production.
“If you talk to the home office, they say there isn’t a problem. Well, there isn’t a problem in a way because we are just reducing our industry. With vegetables, we won’t plant them if we haven’t got the workers, so what will we do? We will just import it all,” Parish said.
Eustice defended the government’s response to ongoing staff shortages in the agri food sector and maintained that policies were being driven by up-to-date data which was coming from industry.
“It is important for our food security that we do have healthy, profitable, domestic food production,” he added.