Survey reveals pig industry’s reliance on European Union

A new survey has shown that one in five businesses and farms in the pig industry would struggle to survive without migrant labour. 

The research, conducted by the National Pig Association (NPA) also showed that one in four businesses would have to significantly alter how they function if the supply of migrant workers – primarily from the European Union – were to be cut off.

Braced for the UK’s impending exit from the EU, the NPA is a driving force from the farming and agricultural sectors in seeking information on the extent to which the UK industry relies on EU workers.

According to the NPA, the Brexit vote was partially won partially on the belief that the UK would no longer have to abide by the EU’s free movement of labour rules.

These concerns have been acknowledged by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), which has resulted in the government body suggesting the possibility of new schemes that would give the UK farming industry access to workers from Europe and beyond upon leaving the EU.

“Any future schemes set up to ensure the future supply of migrant labour must encourage full-time workers to come and live in the UK, which is what the pig industry requires, rather than focus on short-term seasonal work, as previous schemes have,” he said.

The result of the referendum also meant that the British pound fell in value, making the UK a less attractive place to work for overseas workers, said the NPA. The association now believes that major UK processors are concerned about their ability to attract sufficient staff numbers in the run-up to Christmas.

“Our survey confirms the extent to which the entire pig supply chain relies on EU labour to function,” added Lister. “Without it, many businesses would struggle to continue or would be forced to significantly alter how they operate.

“Brexit raises a number of questions over the immediate and longer-term availability of this vital source of workers. It is therefore essential that the government sends out positive messages on migration to reassure EU workers that they will continue to be welcomed with open arms in our industry.”

NPA policy services manager Lizzie Wilson added: “We will use the results of the survey to push the government to introduce schemes that ensure EU labour continues to be available to the UK pig sector after we leave the EU.”

Defra told Meat Trades Journal that there has been no change to the rights and status of EU nationals in the UK, or of British citizens in the EU, as a result of the referendum. The organisation highlighted that Theresa May had been clear that she wanted to protect the status of EU nationals already living here and the only instance where that wouldn’t be possible would be if British citizens’ rights in European member states were not protected in return.

“Supporting our farmers and protecting the environment will form an important part of our exit from the EU,” a Defra spokesperson told Meat Trades Journal.

“At every step of these negotiations we will work to ensure the best possible outcome for the British people - not least our farming community who play a vital role in our country.”

The NPA survey received well over 100 responses from across the pig industry.

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