“This will haunt people for the rest of their lives.”Kate Moore, pig farmer in East Yorkshire
Farmers in the UK are facing the prospect of slaughtering 120,000 healthy pigs because there are not enough workers in abattoirs (slaughterhouses) due to a Brexit-induced labour shortage.
Around 80% of skilled butchers in the UK are from Europe, but many have now left.
This reduced number of workers due to Brexit and the pandemic is forming a backlog of pigs that are meant be slaughtered. For example, farms that normally send 500 pigs to abattoirs are only able to send 200, meaning 300 are left behind. Farms are getting too full and are paradoxically having to cull healthy pigs to preserve the welfare of their animals.
But pigs slaughtered on farms are not classified as suitable for human consumption. As well a distressing prospect for farmers and a dangerous situation for pig welfare, this is a disastrous food waste issue.
There are a number of flaws in the supply chain that are adding to the problem.
Kate Moore, a pig farmer in East Yorkshire, was on Radio 4 on 8 October (from 37:10), and she spoke about the market conditions that mean that a pig over 105kg halves in value, and if they get to 120kg, they are unsellable. With pigs gaining 1kg a day, she faces the prospect of culling healthy animals she doesn’t have room for, and nobody wants to buy.
She added that piglets are still being born every week to fulfil agreed contracts, but those companies are not taking away as many pigs per week as they normally would because they don’t have enough butchers. She is not getting compensated for when companies are not able to fulfil their side of the contract.
Her anger is directed at the Prime Minister. “I can’t ask someone else to do it. I can’t do it! I don’t know, maybe Boris will come and do it for me! He doesn’t care, he’s got no feelings for them, he can come and do it, I’ll train him!”
Her mum and sister were present during the interview. They were in tears.
“I’m a really optimistic person, but my God, this past week has been really hard.”
“We’re so tired.”
The government says it understands the challenge the pig industry are facing and they are keeping the situation under review. Kate Moore says she supports giving UK jobs to UK workers, but there will not be an industry to employ people if this continues.
She has 9,500 piglets due to be born soon, and says stopping the breeding programme would be abandoning the business. She will have to make the impossible decision between culling thousands of pigs or giving up her livelihood. If pig farms close in the UK, people will have to rely on imported pork with much lower welfare and environmental standards.
Pigs culled on farms will either be incinerated, or can sometimes be turned into products like pet food. But as Kate Moore’s family says, “We’re farmers to feed people, it’s the job, you know, we do day in and day out, and we work bloody hard for it, and I am NOT killing pigs for no reason. No way.”
It raises questions about how our supply chains are so delicate, and business practices so rigid, that a cull like this would even be necessary.
WWF recently exposed the colossal amount of food waste created on farms, and highlighted the responsibility of governments and businesses for allowing unsustainable supply chains and unfair practices that make this waste an accepted and everyday occurrence.
In the UK, most food waste campaigns and initiatives focus on consumer waste, encouraging the public to write better shopping lists, store food properly and make use of leftovers and scraps. We all have our part to play, but not enough is being done to fix wasteful business practices that create systemic levels food waste before it even reaches our homes.
The disaster unfolding on pig farms should be a wakeup call that directs more energy and resources to support farmers and transform our food system into one that is sustainable and resilient to future shocks.
Featured image by Pexels on pixaby