The slaughter of healthy pigs has started on UK farms, with farmers forced to kill animals to make room and ensure the continued welfare of their livestock, amid a continuing shortage of slaughterhouse workers .
Pig farmers have been warning for several weeks that labor shortages at slaughterhouses have resulted in a backlog of up to 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 struggling with labor shortages linked to Brexit and the pandemic, while a shortage of delivery men and drivers has affected supply chains.
About 600 pigs have been killed on farms across the country, according to Zoe Davies, executive director of the National Pigs Association, who said the slaughter had started at a “handful” of farms.
Industry experts said the carcasses would most likely be processed into biodiesel and other non-food products, as they cannot be classified as safe for consumption.
The majority of pigs slaughtered on the farm are expected to be taken to UK rendering plants. Rendering separates fat from meat and bones, and the products can then be used for pet food and animal feed. However, since pigs will die on the farm and not in slaughterhouses, as is the norm, they cannot be approved for human consumption and therefore will not enter the food chain.
“We have moved on to the second step,” Davies said. “The first step was to plan for emergencies and place the pigs in temporary housing. Second step, we are out of space and the pigs are growing, there are more on the farm than we can handle.
“Either stop breeding the sows, which some farmers do, or you thin the pigs so that the welfare of those on the farm is not negatively affected. We shouldn’t have to be here and we shouldn’t be doing this at all.
Animals ready for slaughter but stranded on farms need to be fed and housed, causing financial hardship for farmers. During this time, large pigs that are late for slaughter often gain about 1 kg per day, becoming too big to be processed by slaughterhouses.
“I’ve had grown men over the phone in tears just at the thought of having to consider killing healthy animals. We have to avoid the welfare slaughter on the farm, ”Davies said.
Some farmers are said to be culling piglets, while others have brought slaughterers to their farms to kill larger animals that have grown too big to be taken to slaughterhouses.
A source told the Guardian that there had been a small but noticeable increase in the number of dead sows seen over the past two to three weeks at rendering plants, suggesting that some farmers are reducing their breeding herds.
Farmers are responsible for the safe and legal disposal of dead livestock, and it is Against law burying or burning the carcasses, in order to avoid the risk of contamination of the soil, groundwater or the air.
Farmers insist that low wages are not the reason meat factories struggle to fill their vacancies. “We are still portrayed as a low-wage industry, and we need to make it clear,” said Tom Bradshaw, vice president of the National Farmers’ Union (NFU), adding that meat processing plants offer wages of up to £ 18 an hour, but still fail to attract enough workers.
The UK food and drink industry has previously called on the government to introduce a ‘Covid-19 recovery visa’ to recruit workers from overseas to temporarily ease disruptions in the food supply chain.
Trade associations representing all sectors of the UK food chain have proposed a one-year visa that would recruit workers for jobs such as truck drivers, butchers, chefs and other workers in the food industry.