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Question for Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

UIN HL6001, tabled on 4 February 2022

To ask Her Majesty's Government what assessment they have made of the impact on pig production of the shortage of butchers; what assessment they have made of the implications of the shortage on animal welfare; and what steps they intend to take to alleviate this situation.

Answered on

18 February 2022

We continue to monitor the evolving situation and to work closely with the pig industry to help them respond to challenges caused by the pandemic, including the loss of exports to the Chinese market for certain pig processors, disruption to CO2 supplies, and a temporary shortage of labour in the processing sector. This has led to a growing backlog of pigs on farms, which can pose challenges to animal welfare.

We have provided a package of measures to help address these unique circumstances, which includes temporary work visas for up to 800 pork butchers, and Private Storage Aid (PSA) and Slaughter Incentive Payment (SIP) schemes to facilitate an increase in the throughput of pigs through abattoirs. Together with the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) and other Government Departments, we are working to both expand existing markets and to identify new export markets for pork, particularly lightly processed pork. We are also working with industry to support their efforts on the recruitment and retention of domestic workers.

On 10 February, the Farming Minister Victoria Prentis chaired a roundtable with pig industry representatives from across the UK to discuss the challenges that the sector has been facing in recent months. We are launching a UK-wide review of supply chain fairness in the pig sector. We will be engaging with industry on this straight away, with a consultation expected later this year. We want to elicit industry views on improvements to fairness and transparency that could be made to ensure a profitable and productive future.

We have also introduced additional flexibility to the SIP scheme to further encourage uptake and reduce the backlog. This will remove all restrictions on the end destination of products killed during SIP shifts from 18 February.

It is the responsibility of the registered keeper or owner to ensure the health and welfare of the animals in their care and to apply and adjust contingency plans, in response to a changing situation. Contingency plans may involve movement of animals to another holding, or on-farm culling of animals that are suffering, or at imminent risk of suffering, adverse welfare impacts. Farms have contingency plans to deal with short-term disruptions. In some cases, this has resulted in animals being culled on-farm to prevent animal welfare issues or to address issues that have arisen.

While the shortage of butchers has reduced the opportunity for processors to butcher meat, particularly for the domestic retail market, it has not impacted the number of pigs slaughtered. Defra records show that the number of pigs slaughtered throughout 2021 was higher than the 5-year average. GB Pig slaughter numbers were up by 0.2 million to 11.4 million pigs in January-November 2021, compared to the same period 2020. Slaughter numbers were also 0.3m or 3% higher than the 2018-20 average.