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UK: Support measures for the pig industry

Beleaguered pig producers in the UK have been granted a lifeline after the government announced a series of measures to support the sector.

The aid follows demonstrations by producers frustrated at the lack of abattoir and butchery capacity, which meant that up to 150,000 animals were at risk of being culled on farm and meat burned in incinerators.

Unique temporary circumstances in UK pig sector

The government said it recognised the unique temporary circumstances facing the sector due to the global economy responding to the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic and the global pressures facing supply chains.

A lot of extra measures are needed to make sure the months leading up to Christmas go well for the UK swine industry. - Photo: Henk Riswick
A lot of extra measures are needed to make sure the months leading up to Christmas go well for the UK swine industry. - Photo: Henk Riswick

The announcement by the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) includes:

  • Private Storage Aid: Funding a scheme that enables meat processors to store slaughtered pigs for 3-6 months so they can be preserved safely and processed at a later date.
  • Temporary visa scheme: This will until 31 December enabling up to 800 pork butchers to eligible to apply for visas from the existing allocation in the Seasonal Workers Pilot Scheme, allowing them to travel and work in the UK a part of the point-based immigration system.
  • Levy holiday: Both the Agricultural and Horticultural Development Board (AHDB) and Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) have announced a pork levy holiday, suspending payments of the levy pig farmers and producers are required to pay during November, amounting to £1 million (€ 1.18 million).
  • Further work with AHDB to support establishments that have been delisted by China to identify other export markets for pork.

Defra secretary of state George Eustice said the support following discussions with the industry and follows a raft of measures already announced to tackle the global shortage of heavy goods vehicle drivers.

Reducing the backlog of pigs on farms

The move was welcomed by the National Pig Association’s (NPA) chief executive Zoe Davies, who spoke of her relief that the UK government had finally released some measures to reduce the backlog of pigs on farms. “We are working with the processors to understand the impact of these new measures and to determine exactly what will happen now, and how quickly, so that we can give pig farmers some hope and stem the flow of healthy pigs currently having to be culled on farms.”

It is estimated that around 6,000 pigs have had to be culled on farms during the current crisis. Rob Mutimer, chairman of the NPA and Norfolk pig farmer told the National Farmers’ Union council this week that vets across the country had been reporting “extreme welfare problems” on pig farms over the last 3 weeks.

“I’m really sad to say that, as of this week, we are now seeing considerable number of pigs, not in the hundreds but in the thousands, being slaughtered on farms.”

Distress loads of overweight pigs

The UK’s leading agricultural media titleFamers Weekly reported that farmers were receiving as little as £0.70/kg for “distress loads” of overweight pigs with animals butchered into 6 primal cuts and exported to China, Poland and the Philippines.

Meanwhile, the UK’s leading assurance scheme Red Tractor also came in for criticism for week at the NFU Council meeting for its “heavy-handed and insensitive” letter to producers, which outlined the assurance body’s expectations of keeping to correct stocking densities during the crisis.