‘A relatively small number’ – Eustice plays down scale of on-farm pig cull

Defra Secretary George Eustice has sought to play down the ongoing cull of pigs on farms caused by insufficient processing capacity in pork plants.

The NPA is aware of 30,000 pigs that have been culled due to overcrowding on farms – although this is likely to be a significant under-estimate as these are just the reported cases. Farmers have been facing the horrendous problems associated on farms since last summer, and the situation, following the festive period when fewer pigs are processed, is getting worse.

Yorkshire vet Duncan Berkshire estimated that the backlog increased ‘by 50% to 100%’ over the festive period with at least 150,000 pigs now likely to be backed up on farm.

Mr Eustice addressed the pig sector’s plight in an in-depth interview with the Politics Home website, which noted the Cornwall ‘has been tasked with bringing an end to the nationwide culling of pigs’ which, at the time ‘had claimed more than 16,000 healthy animals’.

The article pointed out that the government’s package of measures designed to tackle the logjam, including a visa scheme allowing up to 800 overseas butchers to work in the UK for six months and the option for private storage aid, has been ‘slow to have an impact’. Very few butchers have arrived so far under the visa scheme.

Mr Eustice revealed, according to the article, that one of the reasons why it has taken several months to get butchers is that officials have had to prioritise the visa applications of overseas poultry workers, to ensure there were enough turkeys on supermarket shelves for Christmas.

He said he expected to have ‘got the situation back into balance’ by early spring, a more optimistic take than the ‘early summer’ date suggested in a Farming Today interview before Christmas.

He insisted ministers ‘were always clear’ there was never going to be a quick fix and sought to play down the magnitude of the crisis.

“In the context of the total number of pigs that are being slaughtered, which is in the millions, it’s a relatively small number [being culled],” Mr Eustice said.

The article cites NPA warnings about how the financial hit to pig farmers has forced some to walk away from the industry and refers to ‘harrowing reports from affected farms have revealed the stress and misery of their plight’.

Mr Eustice expressed sympathy for farmers who have had to cull pigs on farm. “Culling on farm is never ideal, and obviously it’s distressing. Farmers raise their pigs to go into food production, so to have that waste is something nobody wants to see,” he said.

You can read the full interview HERE

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Editor of LBM titles Pig World and Farm Business and group editor of Agronomist and Arable Farmer. National Pig Association's webmaster. Previously political editor at Farmers Guardian for many years and also worked Farmers Weekly. Occasional farming media pundit. Brought up on a Leicestershire farm, now work from a shed in the garden in Oxfordshire. Big fan of Leicester City and Leicester Tigers. Occasional cricketer.