Prime Minister criticised for not taking pig crisis seriously as cull begins

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been accused of not taking the dire situation in the pig industry seriously, as culling, on a small scale, gets underway on farms. 

The NPA has confirmed that it is aware that culling has started on a handful of farms, with fears this could become more widespread unless solutions are found soon.

NPA chief executive Zoe Davies said: “We know of a handful of farmers who have had to cull some pigs – around 600 we are aware of in total.

“There has been no mass culling yet – although I do believe this is the next stage in the process.  As you can imagine this is hugely difficult for the farmers involved and to date none are willing to speak to the press about it.”

NPA chairman Rob Mutimer added: “There are now producers actively euthanising piglets – they have run out of room. They are tending to euthanise the younger ones and get the older ones away as they can.”

The fear is, with some farmers getting pigs rolled at a rate of 25-30% per week and contingency plans exhausted, the pressure will build, requiring a large-scale welfare cull.

Processors have stressed that they are operating at the maximum capacity staff numbers will all and, in some cases, they have extra taken steps to ease the backlog. Despite this, the situation is not improving Mr, Mutimer said – is much worse in some supply chains than others and on some farms than others. Mr Mutimer stressed that things need to improve rapidly before the next pinch point.

“Pigs are normally being brought forward now ahead of Christmas. We must see some improvement in all supply chains soon, otherwise we are going to head into the reduced kill at Christmas and people won’t be able to cope as they have already filled their contingency plans,” he added.

 PM digs deeper

The NPA is asking the Government for urgent assistance, primarily in issuing temporary visas for butchers, along the lines of those issued for more than 10,000 HGV drivers and poultry workers in the run up to Christmas.

So far, the Government has shown no signs of accepting the request and, worse, the Prime Minister appears to have made light of the whole thing. Following his car crash interview on the Andrew Marr show on Sunday, he was at it again in another interview for Times Radio on Tuesday.

Asked if he might want to back down on every offending every pig farmer in the country, he doubled down on his insistence that the pigs are going to die anyway, repeatedly asking the interviewer if he had ever eaten a bacon sandwich prove his point. The industry reaction was once again a mix of exasperation and anger.

Speaking to the BBC, well-known pig vet Duncan Berkshire, described the remarks as ‘enormously disappointing’. He is liaising with the Defra over the logistics of tackling the pig backlog, including preparation for culling, if necessary.  He said the numbers of pigs that had already been culled ‘are unfortunately starting to rack up’.

 “Unfortunately those discussions are around the horrific case where we are looking at not only when, but also how, we will have to enact a cull of healthy animals which would then just go for incineration,” Mr Berkshire (main picture, talking to the media at the Save British Bacon event on Monday) told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“We are already at a few hundred at the moment. But if we don’t get movement soon on the backlog of pigs that is present on farms at the moment, we are going to have to enact some of these more drastic actions.”

Dr Davies, chief executive of the NPA, said the Prime Minister had failed understand the difference between animals being killed for food and culled. “These animals were going to feed the nation. It should not be allowed to happen,” she said.

Yorkshire farmer Kate Morgan, co-organiser of the Save British Bacon demonstration in Manchester this week said Mr Johnson’s comments were an ‘absolute insult’ and a ‘kick in the teeth’.

She warned that unless the government solves the shortage of butchers in processing plants by issuing short-term visas for foreign workers, she may have to cull pigs on her East Yorkshire farm ‘by the end of October’.

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About The Author

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.