Scottish pig farmers face the double whammy of reduced prices and a wait to get their animals slaughtered due to labour shortages in the meat processing sector.
Andy McGowan, the managing director of pig farmers’ co-operative Scottish Pig Producers, said a UK-wide shortage of skilled labour in meat processing plants was beginning to impact farmers in Scotland.
His comments come in the wake of warnings from the British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) that pigs in blankets could be in short supply at Christmas due to post-Brexit labour shortages.
BMPA chief executive Nick Allen blamed the UK government’s immigration policies for staffing challenges, and said that on average BMPA members are around 12%-13% short on staff, with one company missing a fifth of its workforce.
Fast food giant McDonald’s has also blamed supply chain problems for milkshakes being off the menu in all of its UK restaurants.
Mr McGowan said Scottish farmgate pig prices were beginning to slip as a result of the labour problems, and many farmers were being forced to keep pigs for longer on-farm as they wait to get them slaughtered.
“The boning halls in all the larger processors are really short of staff and that’s limiting the amount of pigs they can sort,” said Mr McGowan.
“It’s quite a frustrating period. The prices have just turned downwards and we will see them coming back [down] for the next wee while.”
He echoed warnings of a shortage of products in future, and said many meat companies were not bidding for Christmas contracts to supply supermarkets with pigs in blankets because they didn’t think they would have enough staff to fulfil orders.
“It’s more than just a few milkshakes that are going to be off the menu,” added Mr McGowan.
“Eventually people are going to have to pay more [for food] if they want the products on the shelves. Something will have to give.”
The Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers (SAMW) said it had been warning about labour shortages for the past few months.
SAMW executive manager, Martin Morgan, said: “It is no comfort to be able to say to the nation’s political leaders that we told you so, but that’s the situation we find ourselves in today.
“The current truth is that the UK Government’s immigration rules are stifling our industry’s ability to recruit the number of skilled staff we require to meet retail and consumer demand.”
He added: “The end result, as we see it today, is that there will be a shortage of product on supermarket shelves over the next few months, especially during the Christmas and New Year period.”