Pig producers welcome U-turn over work visas

More details were emerging yesterday of the package offered by the UK government to help address the crisis in the country’s pig sector.

And industry insiders indicated that that while media focus had been on the proposals to allow visas for an additional 800 butchers to help fill staff shortages in the processing sector, the announcement of the private storage aid was equally important to help address the problems within the supply chain - and reduce the backlog on farms.

The UK government said the measures come in recognition of the unique temporary circumstances farmers are facingresponding to the impacts of the pandemic and world-wide pressures facing supply chains.

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The moves were welcomed by producers around the country, with the chief executive of the National Pig Association, Zoe Davies, expressing relief that the government had finally released some measures aimed at reducing the significant pig backlog on farms.

"We are working with the processors to understand the impact of these new measures and to determine exactly what will happen now, and how quickly, so that we can give pig farmers some hope and stem the flow of healthy pigs currently having to be culled on farms."

The private storage aid will fund a scheme in England which will enable meat processors to store slaughtered pigs for three-six months so that they can be preserved safely and processed later.

The temporary visa system will allow up to 800 pork butchers to apply for visas Until December 31, for places within the existing allocation in the Seasonal Workers Pilot Scheme, allowing them to travel and work in the UK for a period of six months.

However, despite welcoming the fact that Westminster had finally listened to the concerns of the industry and recognised the problem as a “step forward”, NFU Scotland said that the 800 visas announced did not address the 5000 shortfall across the industry and were only a short term solution.

“Labour shortages across all sectors of agriculture are causing serious damage to the industry. NFU Scotland and other stakeholders have constantly raised this at the highest level.

“There still needs to be a longer-term plan put in place to ensure that Scottish food producers can continue to provide the quality, sustainable food with high animal welfare standards that our consumers have come to expect, rather than rely on imports that put our own animal health at serious risk.”

The union added that it was important that retailers played their part in ensuring that British and Scottish produce was readily available on shelves and consumers could continue to support the industry by making informed choices and ask for and buy Scottish produce in restaurants, shops or direct from source.

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However, Westminster maintained its line that temporary visas were not a long term solution and that businesses had to make the long term investments in the UK domestic workforce, which were required to build a high-wage, high-skill economy, instead of relying on overseas labour in the role.

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