More measures to ease pig backlog 'desperately needed'

There are no signs of the backlog easing and many farmers remain desperately short of space, the NPA warns
There are no signs of the backlog easing and many farmers remain desperately short of space, the NPA warns

More measures to ease the pig backlog are 'desperately needed' as the crisis continues to worsen, the pig sector has said in a fresh warning to government.

This is despite Defra's support package coming into effect this month, with 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 through plants and, in turn, help reduce the 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 National Pig Association (NPA) has warned that the backlog showed no signs of easing, with many farmers 'desperately short of space having exhausted contingency plans'.

The trade body said it had heard of around 10,000 pigs on farms that had to be culled to ease space pressures, adding that there 'may well be more'.

It remains unclear whether the initiatives will have an impact on getting more pigs through plants, the NPA warned, and how long it will take before under-pressure producers see benefits.

The 800 butchers' visas, for example, falls well short of the 10,000-12,000 butchery roles the British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) said needed to be filled.

And with processors still digesting the rules and conditions surrounding private storage aid scheme, this is also something of an unknown quantity, the NPA said.

The body's chief executive, Zoe Davies said: “For NPA, the pressure will remain firmly on Defra to ensure that the schemes that they have put in place actually deliver their main aim of reducing the pig backlog, and as quickly as possible.

"We are acutely aware that the situation on many farms is still dire and for some producers, these measures have sadly come way too late. I feel for every single one of them.

“We will keep fighting to stem the flow, but every time I think about how all of this was entirely avoidable, my anger and my sadness intensifies. It has to stop.”

It comes after the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) and Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) announced a pork levy holiday for November, worth £1m.

Government ministers gave the green light in response to the continued build-up of pigs on farm, falling prices and high production costs.

The pork levy holiday will amount to savings for the sector of just under £1 million.