Slow butcher recruitment adds to pig backlog

Progress is slow on recruiting the additional butchers needed to deal with the backlog of pigs created by abattoir staff shortages.

In the meantime, 14,000 healthy pigs have been culled and National Pig Association (NPA) chief executive Zoe Davies says she has producers contacting her every day about killing piglets simply to create a production firebreak.

The situation was not ideal, but processors are finding the people needed, said Nick Allen, chief executive of the British Meat Processors Association.

“How quickly we can get them here is a different question. I can’t see many arriving until early December and then I suspect there will be a reluctance from them to come before Christmas,” said Mr Allen.

See also: Emergency slaughter heavy pigs drag down standard price

The package of measures to help the sector clear the backlog also included subsidising the storage of frozen pigmeat, so that it can be brought on to the market at a later date.

This has yet to open, as have payments to put on extra slaughter capacity out of normal hours.

This will pay abattoirs £3 a pig, which Dr Davies said was not sufficient incentive, as they are already working at pace on short staffing and with tired teams.

With the financial damage growing daily, pig producer representatives are expected to continue pushing for compensation.

On 11 November, the government published a declaration needed to facilitate measures it proposes relating to exceptional market conditions in the sector. 

The SPP continues on its yo-yo track, staging a partial recovery in the week to 6 November, following the previous week’s 3.5p crash.

The fluctuations are caused by changes in the number of low-priced pigs intended for export with minimal butchery in the sample each week.

The EU-spec SPP increased by 1.8p/kg last week to 146.5p/kg. This is almost 9p/kg lower than in late September and almost 9p/kg lower than a year ago and 5.5p down on the five-year average, points out the NPA.

Dr Davies said that abattoirs were considering buying pigs liveweight, to avoid overweight pigs (which are being bought at just 70p/kg deadweight) going into the calculation of the SPP and thereby dragging down prices overall.

Low EU pig prices continue to pressure UK pig prices – the EU reference price was 110p/kg at the end of October, compared with a UK reference price of 146p/kg.

Slaughter numbers are well down, with the latest week for which figures are available showing a total of 166,000 head.

This is 4,600 head down on the previous week, 7,600 down on the same week last year and 12,800 below the five-year average.

Carcass weights continue to rise, averaging 91.76kg during the week ended 6 November, more than 4kg higher than a year earlier and 5-6kg up on average weights during the summer, says the NPA.