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Some 170,000 pigs are currently backlogged on farms due to the effects of butcher shortages on the sector

As many as 170,000 pigs are still backlogged on farms as a result of the ongoing labour crisis crippling the sector, while the government’s support package is “not working”, the National Pig Association and NFU have warned.

In a joint letter sent to Defra secretary George Eustice yesterday, the two farming bodies called for an urgent supply chain summit to discuss the challenges faced by the sector.

The pair warned the viability of UK pig production was under threat due to the impact of lower throughput because of butcher shortages, while soaring on-farm costs, a declining breeding herd and a growing mental health crisis among producers were also becoming critical.

In the first few weeks of January, some farmers had reported as few as half of their contracted pigs had been taken to processors, while an average of 30% of the pigs contracted to processors were currently “not going into the food supply chain each week”.

Amid such a “deteriorating” situation for producers, the NPA said the culling of healthy animals due to the lack of space on farms had led to the loss of at least 30,000 sows over the past six months, equating to about 10% of the English herd – “although this is likely to be an underestimate”, the letter stated.

“For many producers, this has been the case since last summer and the expectation is that, unless things change dramatically, the backlog and ongoing food waste will remain in place until at least June,” it added.

Meanwhile, challenging market conditions, exacerbated by the costs associated with the backlog, alongside record pig feed costs and falling pig prices, meant farmers had now been losing approximately £25 per pig for almost a year.

In the letter, NPA chairman Rob Mutimer and NFU president Minette Batters said the situation was “deteriorating” for pig producers and “clearly not sustainable”. They added it was also “totally unacceptable that processors continue to take overweight pigs that they contracted farmers to produce at hugely discounted prices”.

“The NPA and NFU are asking that you arrange a summit of the entire pig supply chain so that we can agree a plan to get these pigs off farms and onto people’s plates,” the letter urged.

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“We are aware of 40 independent farms that have left the industry already. All of these factors are taking a huge toll on farmers’ mental health as the crisis worsens every week, especially for those having to endure the trauma of culling healthy animals when there seems to be no end in sight.”

The letter also saw the NPA and NFU reiterate concerns that the government’s support measures, which were launched last October and extended in part during January, were “not working and have failed to alleviate the backlog of pigs”.

The NPA was aware of only 105 butchers that had, or were due to arrive using the seasonal visa scheme, while it was understood Defra had only received three applications for Private Storage Aid and that there had been no take-up of the Slaughter Incentive Payment Scheme.

Defra was also urged to encourage retailers to collectively play their part in running marketing campaigns to increase British pork sales to help steer the industry out of this crisis. Only Morrisons and Waitrose had done this so far, the letter noted.

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“The situation is utterly dire on pig farms, both in terms of the backlog, and financially,” Mutimer said. “We are already seeing a significant drop in breeding herd numbers, and we fear that if nothing changes we could see a mass exodus from this industry over the next 12 months. Once we lose that production base, we won’t get it back.

“We need some urgent solutions now, which is why we are asking Mr Eustice to bring everyone together – and soon – to discuss how we can all work collectively to prevent this crisis becoming a catastrophe for the British industry.”

The crisis had “gone on for far too long”, added Batters. “It is essential that the secretary of state convenes this urgent summit to find solutions that can alleviate this crisis.”

The letter comes as Compassion in World Farming this week called on the government “to work with the pig industry to reduce herds to an ongoing viable level to meet reduced slaughter capacity”.

Pig farmers “should be compensated by the government to either reduce herds or leave the industry”, it urged.

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