Essex farmer calls for special visas to help pig industry “which is beyond breaking point”

An Essex farmer has called on the Government to issue special visas to specialised butchers in the face of the pig industry “which is beyond breaking point”.

Tom Bradshaw, also the vice president of the National Farming Union, wants a COVID recovery visa to be granted to tackle a shortfall in labour shortages within the abattoir industry.

There were similar calls for action from Cheale Meats, a family run abattoir which has been operating in Brentwood for over 30 years but which is up 15 per cent down on its workforce.

General manager Adam Cheale said that is leaving pig farmers with too many pigs because the processors nationally can’t process them quickly enough.

One farmer in Yorkshire has killed hundreds of piglets because labour shortages in local abattoirs mean adult pigs are not being killed fast enough, the BBC reported.

The resulting backlog means there is less space left on farms for younger pigs, which are cheaper and easier to kill.

The labour shortages are being blamed on Brexit and the covid pandemic.

Mr Cheale said that the level of English required to qualify for work entry is hampering the industry.

He said: “In short we need to relax the language skills required and maybe have one year visas – Just to get over this hump so we can all work out getting staff.

“People say furlough may be the answer but to be honesty before we had Brexit we didn’t have many British people who were willing to work in this industry.

“That’s not going to change. People say it’s a low pay industry. It’s not but it’s not for everyone.

“Some people don’t want to do this kind of job which I can completely understand.

“But it’s a job that has to be done and the people who are prepared to do it tend to be Eastern European.

“It is an industry which is beyond breaking point.It’s just crippled.”

The British Meat Processors Association, said the workforce in abattoirs are on average about 15 per cent down.

Once a pig gets too big, its butchered processed carcass will no longer fit into supermarket packets so retailers do not want to buy it from farmers.

Mr Bradshaw, who farms near Colchester, added: “We saw last weekend an announcement of 5,000 visa for HGV drivers and 5,500 visas for poultry workers.

“I just cannot understand why pigs are not include on that list.

“My fear is we are looking back to decisions made five years ago about leaving the EU rather than looking forward.

“We need to look at the problem we have today and put a solution in place and clearly the problem is critical in some sectors – particularly pigs.

“We just need to look at the solutions that are needed for those problems today.

“It is clearly in the short-term an immigration solution.

“What we are going to end up with is producing less of our food, importing more where it will still be reliant on those exact workers we are not letting do the jobs here.

He added: “I thought the idea of Brexit was taking back control and being able to make decisions.

“This is an decision that needs making and they need to get on and make it and if not they are overseeing a reduction in the UK’s capability to feed itself.”

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.

“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.”

Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter