Shortage of workers and CO2 threatens pig cull: Politicians are not listening, says leading farmer

A leading pig farmer says he has been lobbying politicians for up to three months about critical labour shortages overwhelming the sector, but that politicians are “more interested in other things”. 

Wednesday, 22nd September 2021, 4:05 pm
Updated Wednesday, 22nd September 2021, 4:21 pm

The Ulster Farmers Union (UFU) has warned that if the labour, and now CO2 shortages, are not resolved it could force a cull of healthy animals on farms.

Kilkeel pig farmer Trevor Shields is chairman of the Pro Pork Producers’ group, which represents around 40 farmers.

A shortage of mainly eastern European butchers and processors in NI abattoirs means that his group has a backlog of almost 10,000 pigs over two weeks waiting to be slaughtered, he says.

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Pig farmer Trevor Shields from Killkeel does not believe politicians have been listening to the threats facing the sector. Jonathan Porter/PressEye.com

He has been lobbying “all parties” for up to three months about the building crisis. “They are more interested in other things,” he told the News Letter. “I think they are not doing enough to highlight the problems we are facing.”

He adds: “We are not coping, because we have no sheds to put these animals in. The pigs are getting overweight. We are trying to rent sheds and we can’t get sheds. And in another week or ten days we will certainly have a welfare problem.”

Farmers are penalised by processors if their pigs are over a certain weight as it makes them more difficult to process and means meat becomes too large for standard packaging.

The extra feed required for the pigs is also “a massive problem” and processors have to downgrade such pigs by nearly 50% to get rid of them.

The shortage of labour, who usually come from Eastern Europe, began up to three months ago, due to post-Brexit immigration rules, but has come to a head in the last month, he added.

This week’s UK-wide shortage of CO2, which is used to stun animals before slaughter, is also on the horizon.

Surging energy costs caused the two main UK CO2 plants to close, but government gave them a guarantee on Tuesday night that it would cover their costs. Mr Shields says his normal processor has advised that he has enough supplies to last nine days.

Agriculture minister Edwin Poots said that government immigration policy must be changed within days if the UK is to prevent food shortages due to a lack of labour in processing plants.

He said workers in places like the Philippines are ready and willing to travel to the UK.

“I have been saying [to government] that this needs to happen within weeks, a change of policy, and I think it’s now getting to the point where it needs to happen within days,” he added.

UFU President Victor Chestnutt said some abattoirs were cancelling 25% of production.

“I hope we don’t come into a situation where we have to humanely destroy animals on farm,” he told the BBC.

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