An outbreak of Covid-19 at Germany’s largest pigmeat processing plant could hit UK cull sow exports, the National Pig Association has warned.
The Tönnies plant, in Westphalia in the north-west of the country, can handle 20,000 pigs a day.
But German authorities shut it down after 730 of the 1,100-strong workforce tested positive for the virus.
All infected employees working at the plant, as well as about 7,000 people they had been linked to, have been quarantined.
The source of the outbreak is still not proven, but Tönnies Fleisch officials speculated that cases may have been introduced by immigrant workers.
German processors have been employing staff from Romania and Bulgaria, who travel on buses across the border to work in the plants.
The Tönnies Fleisch shutdown is the latest in a string of Covid-19 outbreaks at German abattoirs and follows the closure of a Danish Crown site in southern Jutland last month.
Zoe Davies, NPA chief executive, said the disruption and loss of capacity could hit the UK’s cull sow market.
Germany is the major outlet for UK sows and the market has been worth as much as £60m/year to UK producers.
Dr Davies said the cull sow price, which she described as already appalling at 42.95p/kg, could come under further pressure.
Even after plants resume production, capacity will remain reduced as tighter Covid-19 controls will be imposed, she suggested.
“We expect production to be at about 80% of the normal level once the plant is back up and running,” Dr Davies added.
She advised UK producers to consider keeping cull sows back where possible to reduce numbers entering the market.
“Some farms have a policy of routinely selling culls after six parities,” she explained.
“But, providing those sows are still productive, it could be worth putting them through the cycle again rather than selingl them.”
However, she urged producers to continue to remove potential culls from the herd where there was a need to do so.