Visas for 800 butchers bring relief for crisis-hit pig farmers

Pigs on fields in Suffolk

Defra's support package for pig farmers includes visas for up to 800 foreign butchers to ease a crippling backlog of animals on farms - Credit: James Bass

Crisis-hit pig farmers have voiced relief after the government announced a support package including temporary visas for up to 800 foreign butchers to ease a crippling backlog of animals.

The pig industry has repeatedly called for short-term visas to address a chronic shortage of workers in pork processing plants - similar to the visas already offered to fill critical vacancies in the poultry and haulage industries.

The National Pig Association (NPA) says this shortage has created a backlog of up to 150,000 pigs on overcrowded farms, raising the possibility of a mass cull for animal welfare reasons.

And that had sparked fears for the future of a sector which is a vital part of East Anglia's agricultural economy, with an estimated 20pc of the national herd kept in Norfolk and Suffolk.

But the announcement means up to 800 pork butchers will now be eligible to apply for visas from the existing allocation in the Seasonal Workers Pilot Scheme up until December 31. The visas will allow them to travel and work in the UK for up to six months.

The government said the adjustment is temporary and is in addition to foreign butchers already being eligible since December 2020 to apply to come to the UK through the existing “skilled worker” immigration route.

It also said it will fund a private storage scheme which will enable meat processors to store slaughtered pigs for three to six months so that they can be processed at a later date

Environment secretary George Eustice said: “A unique range of pressures on the pig sector over recent months such as the impacts of the pandemic and its effect on export markets have led to the temporary package of measures we are announcing today.

“This is the result of close working with industry to understand how we can support them through this challenging time.”

Some East Anglian farmers have already decided to cull their animals and leave the industry.

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Dr Zoe Davies, chief executive of the NPA, said: “We are so very relieved that the government has finally released some measures aimed at reducing the significant pig backlog on farms.

“We are working with the processors to understand the impact of these new measures and to determine exactly what will happen now, and how quickly, so that we can give pig farmers some hope and stem the flow of healthy pigs currently having to be culled on farms.”

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