NFU president Minette Batters has again used a high-profile platform to urge the Government to act to ease the dire situation in the pig sector.
“It has been a really, really difficult time,” she told viewers during an appearance on BBC Question Time on Thursday night.
“It has been heart-breaking to witness. 18 months ago farmers were the key workers – they are the key workers, providing 60% of the country’s food, and here we are, the first country in the world facing a cull of healthy livestock, potentially up to 120,000 pigs.
“These pigs are under contract to processors and retailers – this doesn’t end. They will have to be destroyed on farm via a bolt gun or lethal injection, which is a massive, massive issue for the vets in this country, who are there to save lives, not shoot or destroy healthy livestock.
“As far as I am concerned, this is the start and it has to be resolved. We know already that some of these pigs are sadly having to be culled. It has to be resolved because this is livelihoods and it is people’s businesses and unless we are saying to these farmers that we don’t want a pig industry – and do you know what will happen then?
“We will import pigmeat that is produced to lower standards and what will that say to the British consumer who wants to have high quality, high welfare British pork? This has been a human disaster for those pig farmers who are absolutely distraught.”
She added that Defra Secretary George Eustice and Cabinet Office Minister Steve Barclay were ‘doing everything they can’, but said the industry call for a relaxation of the rules to enable more butchers to come to the UK were still ‘not over the line’.
“I haven’t been able to get to see (Immigration Minister) Kevin Foster or (Home Secretary) Priti Patel,” she said.
She also sought to rebuff claims that unskilled jobs and poor wages and conditions were the cause of the shortages.
“This is not the case – butchers were on £15/hour, staff nurses were on £13/hour. But we’ve got a shortage. We have got have a dial up, dial down, so that we can sort this crisis and we can make sure we have high quality British food,” she said, calling on the Government to retain its ambition to grow the UK’s 60-self sufficiency figure for food.
“At the moment, it feels like farmers don’t matter and that we don’t want to see British food produced in this country – and that has to change.”