Hundreds of overseas butchers are set to be allowed into Britain ease the UK’s Christmas meat crisis.
Ministers are expected to U-turn and create visas for foreign slaughterers in the run-up to the festive season as a massive cull of pigs gets underway.
Boris Johnson‘s government had attempted to play down the impact of the wasting of up to 100,000 pigs which face being thrown away because they cannot be professionally butchered for sale.
It had previously resisted calls for foreign workers to be allowed to make up for a shortfall in trained British staff.
But multiple Whitehall sources told the Daily Mail that ministers have bowed to increasing pressure from industry and are finalising plans to allow about 1,000 skilled workers to relieve UK abattoirs.
Farmers have been warning more than 100,000 pigs face destruction in the coming days because of a shortage of butchers to process their meat.
The gravity of the situation was underlined yesterday when a cull of about 4,500 pigs began.
Tory environment minister Lord Benyon told the House of Lords today that a decision was ‘imminent’ and the steps planned will reflect the action taken in the poultry sector to deal with labour gaps.
The Government announced last month that 5,500 temporary visas will be issued to poultry workers and 5,000 to HGV drivers in an attempt to prevent shortages in the run-up to Christmas.
The gravity of the situation was underlined yesterday when a cull of about 4,500 pigs began (stock image)
Dr Zoe Davies, chief executive of the National Pig Association, said farmers are distraught.
‘As you can imagine this is hugely difficult for the farmers involved… Some are having to use knackermen as they just can’t bear having to do it or ask their staff to do it,’ she said.
The Prime Minister infuriated the farming industry earlier this month by brushing aside the crisis, saying the ‘great hecatomb (sacrifice) of pigs’ may not materialise.
Mr Johnson said the industry needed to improve pay and conditions to attract skilled staff already in Britain.
However, last night it appeared that visa rules will be relaxed as they already have been for poultry workers.
One option being considered is for less stringent English language rules, which industry leaders claim are making it impossible to recruit butchers from abroad.
The brutal cull of pigs involves using a so-called captive bolt gun, which fires a retractable bolt through the head of the animal.
It is highly unusual to kill animals in this way on farms, let alone hundreds at a time, and it has provoked fears for the mental health and wellbeing of the teams involved.
Duncan Berkshire, a vet who is involved in a steering group of experts working with pig farmers, said the grim process began yesterday on three farms, each holding about 1,500 adult pigs.
He said the farmers involved are reluctant to go public, given the circumstances of the cull and fears they may be targeted by activists.
He described the situation as the ‘absolutely last resort’, adding: ‘UK farmers are proud to produce food – they don’t want to produce food that is going to go into the bin.
Mr Berkshire said: ‘It is distressing for everyone involved. These are big pigs and they need to be restrained and you need people who are trained to do it properly.
‘Welfare is important and we don’t want any suffering up to that point of death.
‘My worry is the kind of mental impact this will have on both the producers and their vets.’
Farms have seen nothing like this since the foot and mouth crisis of 2001, when animals were killed to prevent the spread of the disease.
Mr Berkshire said: ‘This is being done purely because something has gone wrong with the food chain.’
It has been suggested that the adult pig farm cull could involve as many as 120,000 animals. The tipping point for a much larger cull will be at the end of this month.
Emma Slawinski, of the RSPCA, said: ‘I’ve heard people say, what does it matter where they are killed? They are going to die anyway.
‘But on-farm culls will be traumatic for many animals and people alike. Slaughterhouses are specifically designed to kill animals.’
She added: ‘None of this meat will enter the food chain, which is incredibly wasteful and disrespectful.’
There are reports that many thousands of chickens are also being slaughtered on farms because processing plants do not have the staff needed to handle them.
What are the rules on slaughtering livestock at home for farmers?
Can you slaughter your own livestock for food?
You can have your own livestock animal slaughtered on your farm or property if it will be eaten by you and your immediate family living there.
This is known as ‘home slaughter’. Home slaughter does not take place in an approved slaughterhouse.
But you must adhere to the legal requirements set out in the home slaughter of livestock guide England and Wales.
It is illegal for meat from home-slaughtered animals to be sold on.
What are the rules on culling livestock?
Farmers are allowed to humanely slaughter livestock at home if it is to protect their welfare.
It is illegal to sell meat that has not been slaughtered and health marked in a licensed abattoir.
There are two statutes relating to the killing of animals outside of a licensed slaughter premises.
These are The Protection of Animals Act 2006 and EC Regulation 1099/2009 on the protection of animals at the time of killing, implemented in the UK by The Welfare of Animals at the Time of Killing Regulations.
How can the animal be killed?
Two methods can be employed to slaughter on-farm; free bullet weapons (rifles, shotguns and humane killers) or captive-bolt stunning followed by bleeding.
Following a change in the firearms legislation in 1998, the captive-bolt is no longer classed as a firearm so does not require a firearm certificate.
Firearms can be suitable weapons, but a valid firearm certificate is required stating the species you intend to use it for.
Defra’s code of practice for the welfare of pigs says the farm needs to have a heath and welfare plan to say who will kill the animals as well as a contingency plan if said person is not around.
It says when killing a farm animal it must be done humanely using a method which makes them unconscious until death.
The Human Slaughter Association says firearms are often ‘the quickest and most effective methods of humane killing of livestock’.
The barrel of the gun has to be in close quarters of the animal’s head – 25cm – and it must fire single bullets or shot-charges to kill the animal immediately.
Where a pig has to be killed in an emergency then any method of killing is allowed as long as the animal is spared any avoidable pain, distress and suffering and is killed as soon as possible.
But a trained person such as a vet must check there is no sign of life.
After a pig’s death or killing, the carcass must be disposed of quickly and the death recorded.