Hot topics | Coronavirus pandemic

Johnson is asked by desperate British pig farmers why immigration laws should be relaxed

Johnson is asked by desperate British pig farmers why immigration laws should be relaxed

  • Summary of the following items
  • Abattoirs, meat processors hit by worker shortages in response to worker cuts, says alabattooring.
  • Farmers say Brexit, COVID and other factors contributed to exodus of east European laborers.
  • Up to 150,000 pigs may be culled, according to the National Farmers Union.
  • According to the PM, farmers must raise wages for locals, invest in technology, and invest more in infrastructure.

Two sisters who run a pig farm in northeast England have remarked to Prime Minister Boris Johnson: Lift tough immigration regulations for butchers or risk seeing the pork industry collapse under the weight of overly fattened animals.

Farmers in Britain say a combination of Brexit and COVID-19 has sparked an exodus of east European workers from abattoirs and meat processors, leaving pigs to back up in barns or fields across the country.

As the pigs gain weight from the extra time spent on the farm, eating food that has also risen in price, they risk passing the size threshold at which abattoirs impose financial penalties because they have become harder to handle.

While some have begun culling pigs, others, like Kate Morgan and Vicky Scott, are desperately trying to keep theirs until they are ready to be slaughtered, but they warned that tensions were rising and many farmers were quitting the job.

Scott told Reuters that "the pressure is like pressure we've never had before, emotionally it's absolutely draining, financially it is crippling" over the squeals and grunts of a couple of hundred pigs. "We're in a pretty bad spot right now," said the former director of the Associated Press.

Industry across Britain has warned in recent months that they are having difficulty maintaining operations after European workers returned home in the summer, with gaps seen on farms, in factories, and in freight.

The problem has hit pig farming hard. It now loses money on every pig sold, with the National Farmers Union warning two weeks ago that up to 150,000 hogs may be culled. Making little profit at the best of times, it is now losing money every time a pound of beef is sold.


Morgan and Scott claim that a 25% reduction in capacity at their abattoir has left 5,000 pigs in the towering barns that stand out on the open, flat fields of east Yorkshire. They were contacted by Reuters after receiving news of another abattoir cancellation.

Morgan said they were doing everything in their power to avoid a cull, but that the pressure was mounting. "We're juggling everything, trying to get pigs to be where they shouldn't be just so we don'' t get to that point," she said.

She urged Johnson to relax post-Brexit immigration requirements and allow european butchers to enter Britain without having to first pass a comprehensive English language test, ostensibly putting workers off.

The pleas have so far fallen on deaf ears. Johnson has said that firms must wean themselves off the "drug" of cheap migrant labor and invest in technology and higher salaries to recruit enough British workers.

He has in recent weeks sparked the ire of farmers by quipping, in various ways, that bacon sandwiches come from dead pigs and that animals are reared on farms to be slaughterets.

Have you ever had a bacon sandwich? Johnson was questioned about a possible pig cull by 'a Times Radio journalist'. "Those pigs, when you ate them, they were dead."

Scott says their farm has invested in technology and retained workers by frequently raising wages. The problem lies in abattoirs and meat processing facilities, where butchers are often more efficient than machines. The sisters note that higher wages in the sector would also result in higher food prices.

Short term, Scott believes a relaxation of visa restrictions is the only way to get the industry moving. "Hope the government is listening now," she said. It's critical, it'll take a long time and we're going to have to get them to do something right now," he added.

You may also like: