Perfectly healthy pigs will end up being destroyed and wasted unless the government takes urgent action to alleviate crippling staff shortages, warn pork producers.

National Pig Association (NPA) chief executive Zoe Davies said that there are an estimated 70,000 pigs backing up on farms, growing at a rate of 15,000 a week, thanks to a shortage of butchers and staff in plants.

She warns that if the government fails to act, the UK's pig sector will shrink.

She said: "For the second time in under a year the pig sector is facing some really tough choices, which we really shouldn't have to be taking as demand for British pork is still strong.

"If government doesn’t take action, perfectly healthy pigs will end up being destroyed and wasted.

"We are expecting an exodus of pig keepers from this year into next, as they have simply had enough – for almost a year now they have been losing money.

"We already only supply 40 per cent of the pork eaten here – is it right that we should be importing more from the EU – the ultimate irony of Brexit."

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British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) chief executive Nick Allen said some processors are 25 per cent down on capacity and having to cut down on lines, warning that the country is already facing a shortage of pigs in blankets at Christmas.

He described the situation in the processing sector as a "nightmare" and said a Covid Recovery Visa would help get some extra people into the country.

The visa would enable all involved throughout the supply chain to recruit critical roles, such as HGV drivers, as a short-term response to labour shortages.

Nick said: “The government has got to do something really quickly.

"We need a quick fix – we understand longer term that we all have to adapt, and either mechanise or get British labour doing these jobs, but in this immediate short-term, on the back of Covid, we can’t do it.

"Without the short-term fix, there’ll be long-term damage.”