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Pork industry fears ‘new issues’ at Christmas despite visas for foreign butchers

·2 min read

The pork industry fears Christmas will present “new issues” around labour shortages despite being boosted by additional butchers from abroad.

Measures announced by the Government last week included up to 800 visas for foreign butchers to come to the UK following warnings that some 150,000 pigs could be destroyed as waste due to a backlog of animals ready for slaughter.

Mike Sheldon, pork sector board chairman of the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board, said that although the Government action is “very welcome”, it will not solve all the problems faced by the industry.

Christmas labour shortages
There is a backlog of pigs awaiting slaughter (Gareth Fuller/PA)

He told the PA news agency on Tuesday: “These butchers must be recruited and trained; it will take between two and four weeks to do all of that – so it is just the start.

“The devil is in the detail, but it should mean an increase in the slaughter of pigs. Our latest data showed the backlog stopped growing or grew just a little bit so there have not been big inroads so far.

“From now until the middle of December the situation should start to ease little by little but will remain a problem for producers who are trying to deal with the number of pigs on farms.

“There are likely to be new issues around Christmas and New Year’s Eve, when abattoirs will see a reduction in staff due to holidays and extra days off.

“It will take time to get back on track in clearing this backlog.”

Overseas pork butchers will be eligible to apply for six-month visas from the existing allocation in the Seasonal Workers Pilot Scheme up until December 31.

The Government said the move is temporary and is in addition to foreign butchers already being eligible since December 2020 to apply to come to the UK through the existing skilled worker route.

Zoe Davies, of the National Pig Association, said: “It will take a while to get butchers in and they’ll probably be up to speed by the start of December.

“There will also be some bank holidays over Christmas with the industry likely to lose three days of slaughter, which won’t help with this backlog.

“This should all be about getting pigs off the farms as quick as possible as everyone is well behind where they want to be.”

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