Hundreds of healthy pigs culled amid UK shortage of abattoir workers

Farmers warned that up to 120,000 animals face being slaughtered as they lack space to house them

Last modified on Tue 5 Oct 2021 08.59 EDT

The culling of healthy pigs has begun on British farms, with farmers forced to kill animals to make space and ensure the continued welfare of their livestock, amid an ongoing shortage of workers at slaughterhouses.

Pig farmers have been warning for several weeks that labour shortages at abattoirs have led to a backlog of as many as 120,000 pigs left stranded on farms long after they should have gone to slaughter.

The meat industry is one of many sectors of the UK economy grappling with labour shortages linked to Brexit and the pandemic, while a lack of delivery workers and drivers has affected supply chains.

About 600 pigs have been culled at farms across the country, according to Zoe Davies, the chief executive of the National Pigs Association, who said that culling had begun at a “handful” of farms.

“We have moved to stage two,” Davies said. “Stage one was contingency planning and putting pigs in temporary accommodation. Stage two, we have not got any more space and pigs are growing, there are more on farm that we can manage.

“You either stop mating sows, which some farmers are doing, or you thin out pigs so the welfare of those on farm isn’t negatively impacted. We shouldn’t have to be here and we shouldn’t be doing this at all.”

Animals ready for slaughter but stuck on farms require feeding and housing, causing financial difficulties for farmers. Meanwhile, large pigs which are overdue for slaughter often grow by about 1kg a day, becoming too large for slaughterhouses to handle.

“I have had grown men in tears on the phone just at the thought to having to contemplate killing healthy animals. We have to avoid welfare culling on farm,” Davies said.

Some farmers are understood to be culling piglets, while others have been bringing slaughtermen to their farms to kill larger animals which have grown too big to take to abattoirs.

A source told the Guardian that there had been a small but noticeable increase in the number of dead sows seen in the last two to three weeks at rendering plants, suggesting that some farmers are reducing their breeding stock.

Farmers are responsible for the safe and legal disposal of dead livestock, and it is against the law to bury or burn carcasses.

Most animal carcasses are transported to rendering plants, where they are cooked and dried in a process which results in products used in the manufacture of animal feed, pet food, biofuels, chemicals and organic fertilisers.

Britain’s food and drink industry has previously called on the government to introduce a “Covid-19 recovery visa” to recruit overseas workers to ease disruption in the food supply chain.

Trade associations representing all areas of the UK’s food chain have proposed a one-year visa that would allow workers to be recruited for jobs such as HGV drivers, butchers, chefs and other food industry workers.

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