Cows and pigs sent to EU for butchering as labour crisis deepens

Britain’s cattle farmers are being forced to ship carcasses to the European Union for processing amid a shortage of butchers.

Nick Allen, chief executive of the British Meat Processors Association, said producers were sending supplies to Ireland where they can be carved into cuts, before reimporting them into the UK.

Pork producers are also expecting to start shipping pigs to the Netherlands for butchering in the latest sign of chronic labour shortages in the UK. Many workers have left the country due to the pandemic and Brexit.

Culling has continued at overseas abattoirs despite the Government issuing 800 temporary visas for butchers to enter the UK for six months. The Government is also funding cold storage for carcasses.

Mr Allen told the Financial Times that farmers “are just about keeping their heads above water at the moment”.

He added: “The backlog isn’t getting any worse, but it isn’t getting any better.” He said staffing numbers were around 15pc below the norm.

Zoe Davies, chief executive of the National Pig Association, said 10,000 healthy pigs had been culled as a result of the backlog building up on farms.

She added piglets were typically being culled as they are easier to process, in particular to cheap products such as lard rather than more expensive cuts that required skilled butchers.

There have been warnings that up to 120,000 pigs will need to be culled because the shortage of butchers is leading to overcrowded conditions on farms that can spread disease.

Farmers have called for regulations to be loosened so they can slaughter their own meat, rather than shipping them to centralised abattoirs and packing plants.

Current rules mean farmers can only kill their own animals for consumption on the farm, and not to sell the meat commercially.