Pig Culling Will Continue For Weeks With Visa Scheme Rollout Set To Take Until Next Month
The culling of pigs is set to continue for another few weeks with the majority of foreign butchers recruited under the government's new visa scheme not expected to be working in the UK until mid November, industry figures have told PoliticsHome.
At least 8,000 pigs have already been culled as a result of labour shortages, according to the latest estimates. The industry said it faced the prospect of 100,000 being culled without government intervention.
But even with the introduction of emergency temporary visa for overseas butchers, culling of pigs will still continue into next month while they are being processed.
"The culling has slowed a bit, but unfortunately it will continue for a few weeks," the National Pig Association's Charlie Dewhirst told PoliticsHome.
Last week the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) announced that 800 overseas pork butchers would be allowed to apply to work in the UK for up to six months in a bid to tackle the growing backlog of pigs on farms across the country.
The government was forced to act amid industry warnings that a national shortage of abattoir workers had left farmers with tens of thousands of pigs that would have to be killed in less humane ways on farms.
Defra also said it would fund a private storage scheme meaning farmers have space to store slaughtered pigs so they can be preserved and then used at a later date. This measure is set to come into effect on 1 November.
However, while industry groups welcomed the steps taken by ministers last week, they say their gradual implementation means some farmers will have to continue culling healthy pigs for the next few weeks.
The majority of overseas butchers recruited under the visa scheme, which comes alongside similar schemes for lorry drivers and poultry workers, are not expected to have been processed and started working in the UK industry until mid next month at the earliest.
Around 50 overseas butchers, whose applications to work in Britain were already at an advanced stage when the scheme was confirmed, are expected to begin working in the next week or so.
Defra declined to comment.
There is frustration across the industry that the government did not introduce the measures for the pig industry sooner, with the Home Office's reluctance to relax immigration rules widely seen as the reason for the hold-up.
“DEFRA clearly understood the issues facing the industry, but trying to get the wider government to understand the implications has been been very challenging. It’s been very frustrating," said one industry leader.
Another agreed that Environment Secretary George Eustice had struggled to convince other ministers to get on board.
“There was a frustration in the the industry but within DEFRA, too, which was trying to make the case to other departments that were looking at the issue from a more ideological point of view," they said.
“The way it works with the government is things get very bad before they get solved. They had been warned for some time about where we were heading."
Industry leaders were told in a meeting today that the Priti Patel-led Home Office is "steadfastly" against more easements for foreign labour on top of the visas made available for overseas workers in the last few weeks, PoliticsHome understands.
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