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The government is to allow 800 foreign abattoir workers into the UK on temporary visas, after warnings from farmers of mass culls.

It previously said businesses should pay higher wages and invest in skills.

The shortage of butchers has already seen farmers destroy 6,600 healthy pigs due to a backlog on farms, the National Pig Association (NPA) said.

The meat industry blames the butcher shortage on factors including Covid and Brexit.

Thousands of healthy pigs have been culled since last week, when the tally was about 600.

Last week, the National Farmer’s Union (NFU) warned that pig farmers were “facing a human disaster” due to the shortage of butchers.

It said that “empty retail shelves and product shortages are becoming increasingly commonplace and Christmas specialities such as pigs in blankets are already under threat”.

The government is temporarily extending its seasonal workers scheme to pork butchers, it said.

Up to 800 pork butchers will be eligible to apply until the end of the year for six-month visas.

Environment Secretary George Eustice said: “A unique range of pressures on the pig sector over recent months, such as the impacts of the pandemic and its effect on export markets, have led to the temporary package of measures we are announcing.

“This is the result of close working with industry to understand how we can support them through this challenging time.”

The government added that the temporary visas “are not a long term solution and businesses must make long term investments in the UK domestic workforce to build a high-wage, high-skill economy, instead of relying on overseas labour”.

Alongside the temporary visas, the government announced a package of measures for the industry, including:

Animals being slaughtered and processed on a SaturdayLonger working days in the meat industry, where possibleA “private storage aid scheme” which will allow processors to store slaughtered pigs for three to six monthsSuspending nearly £1m of tax on pig farmers and producers in November

It said there had been “a suspension of approval to export to China for some UK pork establishments” and that it was working with the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board to identify other export markets.

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