Shortage of butchers might force UK farmers to kill 150,000 pigs

Dead bodies of around eighteen pigs hanging upside down
Pig bodies inside a refrigerator in Glossop, Britain, September 27, 2021, photo: Reuters/Phil Noble

Britain’s pig farmers on Friday said the shortage of slaughterhouse workers has resulted in 150,000 pigs, who should have already been killed, still alive at their farms.

“I’m fielding calls, day in day out, from farmers all over the country who are in a perilous position where they have just got far, far too many pigs on their farm,” Rob Mutimer, chairman of the National Pig Association and a farmer in Norfolk, told Reuters.

The acute shortage of butchers and slaughterers has left up to 150,000 pigs who should have already been slaughtered still on farms.

The farmers also complained about the costs of feeding the extra pigs. “This is crucifying my finances because the food cost of feeding these extra pigs is horrendous. Cash flow of not selling enough pigs is horrendous,” Mutimer said.

Pigs are either electrically stunned before having their throat cut or gassed to death by carbon dioxide. Pigs are slaughtered when they are only between four to seven months. A pig can become up to twenty years in the wild.

Once a pig gets too big, its butchered body will no longer fit into supermarket packets, so retailers won’t buy big pigs from farmers. On Friday, farmers urged retailers not to turn to cheaper European Union pork.

Cheap Eastern European workers
Brexit and the pandemic have left labour shortages across the United Kingdom (UK). When the COVID-19 lockdowns were eased, many eastern European workers, who worked in slaughterhouses, went to see their families, who some had not seen for 1,5 years.

“The whole food sector just cannot cope with such an enormous short term loss in labour,” Mutimer said.

“Yes, the industry needs to train English people, and it needs to become more automated. We know that, and it’s happening. There’s massive investment going into these facilities to reduce the dependence on foreign labour,” Mutimer said about the industry relying on cheap labour for too long.

Farmers starting to kill
Nick Allen, from the British Meat Processors Association (BMPA), told the BBC that some farmers were “quietly starting to cull”. A Yorkshire farmer had killed hundreds of piglets, the BBC reported. Younger pigs were cheaper and easier to kill.

A friend of the Yorkshire farmer, who did not want to be identified, told the BBC: “I’ve been producing for 26 years, and never faced the prospect of having to butcher pigs on my own farm before”.

Meryl Ward, who runs a family farm in Lincolnshire, has 1,600 pigs that should already have gone to slaughter. She has been farming for 35 years and told the BBC the current crisis is the worst she has encountered.

She added: “Producers are in despair… we can’t just waste this food. It’s criminal. If they [the government] really care about farm animal welfare, if they really believe in UK animal production and the standards that we have are worth saving, we need some action.”

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