Desperate calls for butcher visas to avoid pork workforce 'disaster'

A backlog of pigs is growing on East Anglia's farms

The National Pig Association has called for urgent short-term visas for butchery workers to resolve a growing backlog of pigs on East Anglia's farms - Credit: Denise Bradley

The government has been urged to extend its offer of short-term visas to include butchery workers to avert a looming "disaster" on East Anglia's pig farms.

Ministers have announced that up to 5,500 temporary poultry workers will be able to work in the UK, along with to 5,000 HGV drivers, to fill critical vacancies in the food chain in the run-up to Christmas.

But there were no measures for the pig sector, despite repeated requests for short-term visas to address a chronic shortage of workers in pork processing plants.

The National Pig Association (NPA) says this has created a backlog of more than 100,000 pigs on farms, raising the likelihood of a welfare cull.

And that has 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.

NPA chief executive Zoe Davies said: “We were extremely disappointed that the government has ignored repeated requests for temporary visas for butchers, despite the overwhelming evidence of the impact this is having across the supply chain. 

“We desperately need those visas, even for a short period of time to help us get rid of the backlog.

"This is not just about saving Christmas, which seems to be the government’s sole focus, but about protecting pig welfare and averting an environmental disaster. 

“If we don’t get the help we need, it is true that consumers will be denied their Christmas favourites, like pigs in blankets. But we are also facing the long-term decline of British pig production and we need the government to wake up to this now.”

The NPA is warning of a "significant contraction" of UK pork production after months of financial losses due to record production costs, and the shortage of processing workers as a result of Brexit and Covid factors.

A government spokesperson said: "We understand the importance of seasonal labour and we are aware of the challenges that the pig industry has faced in recent months because of the Covid-19 pandemic and labour shortages, and Defra has been working closely with the pig and processing sectors during this time.

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"We are keeping the market under close review and continuing to work closely with the sector to explore options to address the pressures industry is currently facing."

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