Why Britain may be forced to bring in butchers on temporary visas
In order to avoid a mass cull of pigs, the United Kingdom is now considering allowing trained butchers to come to work on temporary visas, Sky news reported on Thursday.
A shortage of butchers at industrial slaughterhouses has left farmers with too many pigs on their farms, leading to warnings that 10,000 pigs a week could have to be destroyed.
It is understood the government will announce a package of measures, thought to include dropping a requirement for fluent English, to allow more trained butchers to come to Britain on temporary visas, Sky reported.
Farmers across Britain say a combination of Brexit and COVID-19 have sparked an exodus of east European workers from abattoirs and meat processors, leaving pigs to back up in barns and fields across the country.
As the pigs gain weight from the extra time spent on the farm, eating food that has also jumped in price, they risk passing the size threshold at which abattoirs impose financial penalties because they have become harder to handle.
While some have started culling pigs, others like Kate Morgan and Vicky Scott are desperately trying to keep theirs until they can go for slaughter, but they warned that tensions were running high and many farmers were quitting the job.
Industries across Britain have warned in recent months that they are struggling to maintain operations after European workers returned home in the summer, with gaps being felt on farms, in factories and throughout the freight sector.
The problem has hit pig farming hard. Making little profit at the best of times, it is now losing money on every pig sold and the National Farmers Union warned two weeks ago that up to 150,000 pigs could be culled.
Meanwhile, two sisters running a pig farm in northeast England have a message for Prime Minister Boris Johnson: lift strict immigration rules for butchers or risk seeing the pork sector collapse under the weight of overly fattened animals.
"The pressure is like pressure we've never had before, emotionally it's absolutely draining, financially it's crippling," Scott told Reuters over the squeals and grunts of a couple of hundred pigs. "We're in a fairly bad place right now."
The pleas have so far fallen on deaf ears. Johnson has said businesses need to wean themselves off the "drug" of cheap migrant labour and invest in technology and higher salaries to recruit enough British workers.
He has provoked the ire of farmers in recent weeks by quipping, variously, that bacon sandwiches come from dead pigs and that animals are bred on farms to be slaughtered.