Labor shortages could result in pigs being slaughtered at birth, Poots says
A shortage of workers in the food industry could lead to the slaughter of pigs at birth in Northern Ireland, the Agriculture Minister told MPs.
Edwin Poots, speaking during Ministerial Question Time in Stormont, said the problems facing the agri-food sector due to labor shortages are “extremely urgent”.
He was invited to take stock of the labor issues facing the meat processing industry and highlighted the shortages in relation to the number of slaughterhouse operators and butchers in slaughterhouses and processing plants.
Mr Poots added, “I have been very engaged and have had many meetings with stakeholders from across our food processing industry about their concerns and how best to resolve the issue. .
“Despite employers offering competitive wages and other incentives, they have struggled to recruit all the workers they need because there is insufficient appetite among our national workforce for these types of jobs. . “
He continued, “For a long time, we have relied on migrant workers to fill the labor shortage in the food industry. Stakeholders have, however, indicated that Britain’s new immigration system has removed a previously existing route to fill vacancies.
“A new system, while providing a route to fill vacancies, is cumbersome, and companies say it is extremely difficult for them to identify migrants who meet all elements of the eligibility criteria and have identified the English language requirement as a particular barrier.
“I am obviously very concerned about the situation. I have focused on ongoing communication at the highest levels with the government in Whitehall to highlight the seriousness of the problem. We hope that we can remedy the situation as quickly as possible. “
Sinn Fein and SDLP MPs said the labor shortage was a direct result of Brexit, which the DUP minister backed.
Mr Poots said: “As a Brexit supporter I wanted to see the end of the open door policy on immigration, but we should be able to get people to where we need them.
“We certainly need it in the food industry and that is the point I have made repeatedly to the UK government. I think this needs to be reconsidered by Whitehall. “
Ulster Union MP Roy Beggs asked if the labor shortage is creating animal welfare problems.
He added: “How urgent is this situation and how is it going to be dealt with in the short and long term?
Mr Poots said: “This is extremely urgent. We have engaged a lot with the industry, we are actively looking at our options. Some of the options are to slaughter the pigs at birth so that this accumulating backlog does not continue unabated, another is to slaughter the animals on the farm at some point.
“But that doesn’t solve the instant problem because we now have a backup, and one of the other areas we could look at is putting the pigs in cold storage. The problem is not the slaughter capacity, the problem is the butchery capacity.
The minister was also asked about the problems farmers faced when moving cattle from Britain to Northern Ireland, which he said was the result of the Northern Ireland Protocol.
He said: “We are in the circumstances we find ourselves in today because the protocol applies, and it is causing misery in this sector and a whole series of other sectors.”
TUV chief Jim Allister said: “If the minister is unable to do anything other than make representations, doesn’t that demonstrate both the tyranny of protocol and its insanity over something? for which it could do something, namely to continue to implement the controls that keep the iniquitous protocol alive?
Mr Poots said: ‘This is the Westminster policy that has been imposed on Northern Ireland. I also remind the member that we are not going to win this battle by taking to the streets, we will win this battle by good policy.