16,000 pigs culled on farms amid 'worsening' backlog

The sector is seeing a growing pig backlog on farms, along with record feed costs and plummeting pig prices
The sector is seeing a growing pig backlog on farms, along with record feed costs and plummeting pig prices

Around 16,000 pigs have been culled on UK farms as producers continue to take desperate measures in response to critical worker shortages in processing plants.

The National Pig Association (NPA) said the situation facing the sector remained 'bleak' despite the government's support package announced last month.

The NPA explained that 16,000 pigs had been culled on farms so far, but the true figure could be 'much higher'.

"The harsh reality is that the situation on farm is getting worse," the group said on Monday (29 November).

"The backlog is not noticeably easing and, with processing days set to be lost over Christmas, it is likely to be into the New Year before we see any real improvement."

The situation remains critical despite Defra's recent support package, which included measures such as 800 new butchers' visas, a private storage aid scheme and incentives for processors to put on extra kills.

The measures, announced in October, were all designed to increase throughput in processing plants and, in turn, help reduce the severe backlog of pigs on farms.

The sector's crisis is a direct result of slaughterhouse and butchery worker shortages linked to Brexit and the impact of the pandemic.

But the NPA said the benefits of the support package "have not, yet at least, been seen, with butchers yet to arrive in any significant numbers and processors not taking up the private storage aid option."

"There might be some movement in both cases in January – but that will be too late for many."

Feed prices are also continuing to increase while pig prices plummet, adding to the already dire financial situation, the group explained.

NPA chief executive Zoe Davies said: "The British pig industry is currently facing a catastrophic combination of events - a backlog of pigs on farms, record feed costs and falling pig prices."

As a result, producers have been losing more than £25 per pig, on average, for much of this year, a financial position that could worsen for many in the coming months.

It comes retailer Waitrose recently pledged to increase the price it pays for pigs, a move which the association applauded.

"It is great to see Waitrose, which has always been a strong supporter of the British pig industry, taking action to back producers in their moment of need," Ms Davies said.

"Retailers have a big role to play in helping the industry through this crisis - we hope to see similar commitments elsewhere."

The NPA wrote to all of the UK's major retailers in October asking how they were supporting pig producers during this difficult time.