High volumes of cheap EU pork imports are flooding the UK market and undercutting British farmers just as the industry faces an unprecedented labour crisis, a leading supplier has said.
A chronic shortage of butchers has caused a massive backlog of pigs on farms.
And now low prices for British produce have left some farmers facing imminent bankruptcy.
Business failings are inevitable over the next few weeks unless drastic action is taken, industry experts have warned, with some pig producers losing an estimated £17,000 (€19,970) a week.
The news comes as hundreds of pigs are slaughtered on British farms because of a lack of workers to process them for sale.
Phil Woodall, general manager at Thames Valley Cambac, a leading pig marketer, said that the sector has been hit by “a vast shortage of
butchery staff as a result of Brexit, aggravated by the pandemic”. He said that the situation has been made worse by cheap imported pork coming from the EU.
German producers have been limited in their ability to
export pork to China, a crucial market, because of bouts of African swine fever.
“So Germany, one of the powerhouses of pork production in the EU, is flooding parts of the rest of Europe with cheap pork,” Mr Woodall said.
“This is an aggravation to the crisis, which is adding to the UK’s staff issues.”
A normal animal that goes to slaughter weighs around 85kg and the cost of producing it is around 160p a kilo.
“We are being undercut by European prices,” Mr Woodall said. “Some processors have been buying those pigs – which cost 160p a kilo to produce – at 75p and
80p a kilo.
“That means some producers are losing around £68 per pig, and an average producer may sell 200-300 pigs a week,” he added.
With these prices, some farmers could be losing £20,000 a week, a figure that Mr Woodall branded “unsustainable”.
He predicted inevitable business failings.
And he said that ultimately there will be a greater reliance on imports as British firms go bust.
“We are effectively exporting our industries to countries that have worse animal welfare standards, and the Government are standing by and watching this
happen,” he said.