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Zoe tells Today programme staff shortages could lead to flood of cheaper EU imports

6th Sep 2021 / By Alistair Driver

NPA chief executive Zoe Davies has warned that the ongoing staff shortages hitting processing plants could lead to an influx of EU pork imports.

Zoe Davies1Zoe was interviewed about the labour shortages on the BBC Radio 4’s flagship Today programme on Saturday morning.  

You can listen to the interview HERE (52 mins)

She explained how a lack of staff due the number of eastern European workers that have gone home means abattoirs cannot process the number of pigs producers are able to supply them with on a weekly basis.

Zoe said: “For the last 6-8 week, all of the major processors have been cutting their kills by up to 25%, leading to pigs being kept on farms for far longer than they should be and that is leading to an absolute crisis for us on the pig side.”

The situation is highlighted by the latest AHDB market data showing last week's pig slaughterings were down by 24,000 head on last year, while carcase weights are increasing, reaching 88.40kg – 1.19kg heavier than the week before, and 3.2kg heavier than a year ago.

Asked if the situation is likely to lead to more EU imports, Zoe added: “The concern is that’s exactly what will happen. We have the pigs, we have the product and the British public wants to buy British pork. However, if the processors are unable to supply the volumes that are required, the likelihood is they will start to look elsewhere.”

She pointed out with EU pork currently trading at 30p/kg less than UK pork due to oversupply issues, it provides a ‘perfect excuse for retailers to ship in much cheaper EU pork. “In our view, that is not what the British public voted for when they voted for Brexit,” Zoe added.

She warned that, with soaring costs of production and falling prices – producers lost between £24-£26/pig in the first half of 2021 – pig farmers are in an ‘increasingly desperate situation’.

“They are getting very stressed out and we are heading towards a situation where healthy animals may well need to be destroyed. This is putting  people’s future at risk,” Zoe added.

Andrew Opie, from the British Retail Consortium agreed the UK could become more reliant on EU imports if the situation continues and called for temporary visas to allow companies across the supply chain to use more EU workers, particularly in the haulage sector, into next year.

Ballet dancers, not butchers

Zoe was also quoted in the Mail on Sunday calling for butchers to be added to the Government’s shortage occupation list.

'You have ballet dancers on it but not butchers. You couldn't make it up,' she said.

A review of the list is not due until next year.