Pig farmer set to quit and blames Brexit for butcher shortage

More than 100,000 pigs could be culled if the current butcher shortage isn't solved

More than 100,000 pigs could be culled if the current butcher shortage isn't solved - Credit: SARAH LUCY BROWN

A pig farmer from Suffolk is set to quit his profession after more than two decades, saying that the shortage of butchers which may lead to a mass cull of pigs is the final straw.

Simon Watchorn, from Earsham Park Farm near Bungay, believes the ongoing issue facing pig farmers, which could see more than 100,000 animals slaughtered and then incinerated, has stemmed from Brexit and poor political decisions.

Mature pigs ready for processing are backing-up on farms. At this stage in their life pigs put on about a kilogram of weight per day  - which means very quickly the pigs can become too large or heavy to process.

"There are a lot of people going out of business, I for one am packing up," said Simon. "I've been doing it for 27 years, this is probably the straw that broke the camel's back.

"That'll be 600 sows, selling 15,000 pigs just gone."

Outdoor pigs Picture: JULIAN COOKSLEY

The number of pigs that can't be processed is growing across the country - Credit: Archant


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The long-time farmer is set to sell his last pigs at the end of June 2022.

Large processing plants can have hundreds of butchers working at the same time butchering carcasses, which Simon described as a very skilled job, which is not traditionally done by British workers.

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Now many European workers have returned home, though Simon doesn't blame them and doubts they will return as they have now been made 'positively unwelcome'.

He said: "The farmers have got them, we have customers, the supermarkets, want to buy them. But there aren't enough butchers. There one weak link in the chain and that's this number of butchers. They are running around 25 to 30% short of staff."

It is a nine-month process to raise a pig, from impregnating a sow to slaughtering them and the highly organised weekly system requires moving pigs out from one end to let new pigs in.

The options for removing the larger pigs from the system become very narrow, they can be taken to a slaughterhouse that slaughters sows but Simon says there are only really three in the country.

Pigs basking in the sunshine Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Members of the National Pig Association want at least 12 month visas for European workers - Credit: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Other pig farmers Simon has spoken to have been struggling, especially in the north, including one farmer on the phone who was in tears after having their weekly number of pigs sold cut from 1,000 to 200.

No clear solution

"There's two possibilities, one is these animals are slaughtered and what's called 'boxed'," Simon said. "Instead of butchering them you cut them into primal cuts: hams, shoulders, loins and bellies. You put them in a cardboard box, put them in a container and sell them cheap abroad."

"The alternative is on-farm slaughter, perfectly wholesome meat, will have to be slaughtered, put into a truck and rendered [thrown away].

"What a waste of food, that is disgusting that an industry is in a position to have to do that."

Temporary visas have been the Government's short term solution for a shortage of lorry drivers and poultry workers, but so far the same has not been extended to the pig farming industry.

"You don't train these people overnight, you can't find them overnight.

"Putting them in for three months and telling them they've got to go home on Christmas eve is an insult. It's just a gimmick, posture politics

"We need action now."

Some of the 14000 pigs belonging to Blthburgh Pork. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Boris Johnson said the mass cull of pigs had "not yet taken place" and "let's see what happens" - Credit: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Simon thinks the origin of this crisis comes from the Government and Brexit,  that there was too quick of a change without a proper plan.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson addressed the issue when asked by Andrew Marr, the Prime Minister said: "I hate to break it to you but I am afraid our food processing industry does involve the killing of a lot of animals. I think your viewers need to understand that."

When it was pointed out to him the pigs could not be sold for food and would have to be disposed of, he accused the presenter of "trying to obfuscate". Mr Johnson also added: "The great hecatomb of pigs that you describe has not yet taken place, let's see what happens."

The National Pig Association's chief executive Zoe Davies said on Twitter: "This is absolutely disgusting… I’ve never seen such wilful disregard and disrespect in my life. You should be ashamed @BorisJohnson This is your mess. Time to fix it."

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