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Government to take action on pig crisis

Following weeks of growing tension, which saw farmers protesting at the Conservative Party Conference, the government has announced plans to help alleviate the crisis. 

Government to take action on pig crisis

The crisis has been growing for some time and it is estimated that several thousand pigs have already had to be culled as they could not be processed for meat.

After extensive campaigning by farmers and bodies such as the National Pig Association the government has finally announced a plan of action to alleviate the crisis, which was set to be one of the largest and most traumatic culls in modern farming history.

The announcement from Defra states that until 31st December, up to 800 pork butchers will be eligible to apply for visas from the existing allocation in the Seasonal Workers Pilot Scheme, allowing them to travel and work in the UK for a period of six months.

Defra stressed that these temporary visas are not a long term solution and businesses must make long term investments in the UK domestic workforce to build a high-wage, high-skill economy, instead of relying on overseas labour.

It stressed that it expects the pork sector to encourage better training offers, career options and wage increases to ensure that the sector draws on the large domestic labour pool in the UK, as well as investing in technology across the industry.

The view that the labour crisis was caused by domestic problems with pay has been refuted by farming groups since the start of the problems, but clearly remains integral to the government’s long term view.

Additional measures

The announcement also included other provisions to help improve output, including a private storage aid scheme planned in England, which will enable meat processors to store slaughtered pigs for 3-6 months so that they can be preserved safely and processed at a later date. Government will also be working with the industry to introduce the processing of animals on Saturdays and longer working days where possible with the aim of improving throughput. The full details of how the plan will work have yet to be announced, but it will be a welcome step forward for the pig industry.

The government announcement came the same day as the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) and Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) took the decision to announce a pork levy holiday to help support struggling farmers. The decision was made in direct response to the continued build-up of pigs on farm, falling prices and high production costs.

Chairman of the AHDB Pork Board Mike Sheldon said: “These challenges, in particular a shortage of skilled workers, come on top of pressure on margins largely due to rising feed costs. These issues are extremely concerning and therefore require industry-wide action to prevent the situation deteriorating into an animal welfare issue.

“AHDB is already undertaking work to help the sector, including providing independent evidence to Government setting out the seriousness of the situation, and looking at how together we can support meat processors to ease the supply of labour.

“As part of its wider approach, the AHDB Pork Board has agreed to a one-month levy holiday to help ease the burden of the financial pressures faced by levy-payers.”

“We must not stop now”

QMS chair, Kate Rowell, says it’s important to support producers as they face exceptional difficulties. She added: “The pig sector plays an important role in Scotland’s agricultural industry and this relief will help support producers as they work tirelessly to look after the animals in their care.”

The NPA has said it welcomes the support, but remains concerned about the situation on farms. NPA chief executive Zoe Davies commented: “This really is just the beginning of the process and we have a long way to go before we can say the crisis is over. The situation on many farms is still critical so we must not stop now.

“From what we have seen so far, we believe that the package of measures – if implemented swiftly – can help to ease the backlog and the sooner the better. We are pleased that the Government now fully understands our concerns and is committed to working with us and the supply chain to ease the situation.

“We will keep a close eye on how the measures are implemented and will also look to ensure the financial burden of clearing the backlog is shared evenly across the supply chain.”

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