U.K. Farms Are Killing Pigs They Can’t House Any Longer
U.K. farms have begun the daunting task of destroying pigs as worker shortages leave 120,000 animals with nowhere to go, meaning livestock could end up as pet food instead of pork.
A worker crunch -- driven by Brexit and the pandemic -- has seen processors cut slaughter rates by as much as 25% since early August, the National Pig Association said Friday in a letter to U.K. retailers. That’s left farms with a glut of animals that they’ve been housing everywhere from cattle barns to potato sheds, and many have now “simply run out of space,” the association said.
“The only option for some will be to cull pigs on farm, which is something that we have tried our utmost to avoid,” said Rob Mutimer, the group’s chairman. “Not only would this be an incredible waste of healthy pigs and good pork, it would be financially ruinous and incredibly damaging for your supply chains.”
The situation is one of the strongest examples of how Britain’s labor shortage is disrupting the economy, with more than half of all companies lacking staff. Fuel stations have warned it could take weeks for a petrol crisis to ease, and poultry companies have said Christmas turkey supplies will fall 20%.
Some farmers are facing a “welfare cull” and others could pay to take animals to slaughterhouses dedicated to killing pigs, rather than processing them for food. At least one has already reached that point, which requires a veterinarian’s presence or slaughter license, said Charlie Dewhirst, senior policy adviser for the NPA. Animals may be shot with a bolt gun and carcasses rendered into fats or pet food.
“As every day passes, the more likely it’s to happen on more farms,” Dewhirst said. “You couldn’t have dreamt up a worse scenario of factors that came at us one after another.”
Two decades ago, the U.K. was forced to destroy more than 10 million cattle and sheep during an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease. But that was to stem the spread of the illness, rather than because of a backlog, said James Russell, senior vice president at the British Veterinary Association.
Many farms keep room for extra animals, but those that raise piglets are facing the most urgent dilemma as the operations they’re typically sold on to for fattening are becoming full. Culling animals is “absolutely a last resort” and any costs are borne by farmers, said Mike Sheldon, chairman for pork at the Agriculture & Horticulture Development Board.
In its letter, the National Pig Association urged retailers to prioritize British pork and divert butchers away from other products to ease the backlog.
The plea comes after a recent carbon-dioxide crunch in the U.K. risked shutting down meat plants, which rely on the gas to stun animals. While that’s been averted in the short-run, prices are surging, adding to higher costs for packaging, energy and trucking.
Meat plants are on average about 12% short of staff and some companies are seeing shortages close to 20%, according to survey results from the British Meat Processors Association.
“When this is raised with government, it is dismissed summarily with the suggestion that we simply need to pay more,” Peter Hardwick, the BMPA’s trade policy adviser said in a report. “Across the sector, wages have risen sharply by as much as 20% and yet it still proves impossible to sustainably recruit local staff, who do not want to do this type of work.”
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