Two pandemics and Brexit leave U.K. pig sector in peril

Reuters – For British pig farmers like Simon Watchorn, the start of 2021 has brought fresh problems after a pandemic-ridden 2020.

British pork producers have seen their profits eroded by COVID-19 and an outbreak of deadly African swine fever (ASF) in Germany, and are now having also to deal with Brexit red tape that has hammered exports and hurt demand from key buyers such as German sausage makers.

Pig prices, especially for sows, are tumbling just as feed costs soar.

“We’ve got expensive feed, ASF, COVID, and now we’re struggling to send stuff abroad. People have fallen into the red. If the situation doesn’t change they’ll be shutting shop,” said Watchorn, who is based in Norfolk, eastern England.

Pigs remaining on his farm have grown overweight and some have lost up to half their value since COVID-19 disrupted meat processing last year.

This year, Watchorn said Britain’s exports to the European Union have been so disrupted following the country’s exit from the EU’s single market and customs union on Dec. 31 that he no longer discusses price when sending older female pigs, known as ‘cull sows,’ to slaughter.

“We said we’ll sort the price out later, it was just about (the abattoir) taking them,” said Watchorn.

About 90 per cent of Britain’s cull sows go to Germany to be processed into sausages, patties, salami and other cured meats.

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