Boris Johnson has caved in to the meat industry and allowed foreign butchers to come to the UK in a bid to avoid pig culls.
More than 6,000 pigs have already been culled due to a shortage of butchers in the UK, industry leaders said as they called on the Government to allow butchers from overseas to travel to Britain on work visas to ease the problem.
The National Pig Association said the difficulty in the meat industry is not low wages, which many argue are causing the shortage of HGV drivers, but Home Office requirements that butchers must have a good standard of English.
That requirement is to be dropped, as 800 seasonal work visas that do not have language requirements are granted to deal with Britain’s understaffed abattoirs.
The Government will introduce processing of pork products on Saturdays and longer working hours where possible. Ministers are also set to approve a scheme called Private Storage Aid, which uses taxpayer funds to pay for cold storage facilities for pig carcasses to avoid them being destroyed after slaughter.
‘Government needs to act, and it needs to act swiftly’
Pig and poultry farmers have decried the labour shortages, which have left farms full of animals that cannot be slaughtered, while supermarkets warned there may be shortages on the shelves at Christmas. Around 1,400 pig farms are affected by the shortages. Together, they supply around 90 per cent of British pork.
Abattoirs have been running at around 75 per cent of normal capacity for the last three months, leading to a build-up of stock on farms.
Stephen Thompson, a pig farmer from Suffolk, told Sky News: “We’ve got a shortage of products for the shelves for Christmas and we’ve got products sat on our farm taking up space and becoming a welfare nightmare. The Government needs to act, and it needs to act swiftly. They are supposedly talking now, but we need something to happen this week.”
Emergency visas for thousands of HGV drivers and poultry workers
On Thursday, officials launched a consultation to extend “cabotage” rights, which would allow hauliers from overseas to make unlimited deliveries within the UK for two weeks before returning home. Currently, drivers can only make two trips within the UK within seven days of arriving in Britain.
Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, said the measures would “make sure foreign hauliers in the UK can use their time effectively and get more goods moving in the supply chain at a time of high demand”.
The Government has already approved emergency visas for 5,000 HGV drivers and 5,500 poultry workers in the lead-up to Christmas. But supplies of non-food goods have also been hit by supply chains between the UK’s container ports and regional distribution centres breaking down.
On Wednesday, shipping bosses urged families to complete their Christmas shopping earlier than usual to avoid shortages, while supermarkets told the Government they intended to run festive promotions for longer to spread demand across the next two months.