As an MP representing an especially rural constituency, I’m acutely aware of the problems faced by farmers throughout the pandemic, whether that’s been coping with self-isolating workers or the fact that much of their market disappeared overnight with the closure of restaurants and reduced international trade.
Nowhere have these struggles been more clearly demonstrated than in the tragic culling of around 10,000 pigs in the East Riding alone in the run-up to Christmas, with our country accounting for as much as 37% of the UK’s pig livestock.
Ultimately, staffing shortages across the sector has meant that abattoirs have been unable to process pigs quickly enough, with farmers unable to keep them on their farms for much longer due to animal welfare regulations as well as the cost of looking after them. With only four major processors nationally, farmers are losing around £25 per pig.
The pandemic has thrown up market issues all over the world, through bottlenecks and labour shortages, but instead of looking for someone to blame it’s important we work together to find solutions.
The Government has moved to address the situation, with the introduction of 800 more 6-month visas for pork butchers and a storage aid scheme so that abattoirs can process pigs at a later date, and is continuing to monitor the situation through the UK Agriculture Market Monitoring Group.
But if for one reason or another these haven’t been successful, we must knuckle down to find out what will have an impact, not least working to improve the domestic labour force.
I met with the Farming Minister earlier this month to see what more can be done, and I will be meeting the Environment Secretary next week (23rd February) to raise it again and to ask him to work with the relevant Ministers in the Home Office and the Department for Work & Pensions to find a solution.
I will keep on working to ensure that farmers, who are so important, are properly supported as we enter a new post-pandemic, post-Brexit era.
16 February 2022