A Wiltshire pig farmer has hit out at Boris Johnson’s 'crass and insensitive' reaction to the crisis facing the industry, which he predicts could become as bad as the foot and mouth nightmare of 20 years ago.

Farmers warned last week of a pork supply crisis unless the Government urgently eased an acute shortage of abattoir workers and butchers that has left up to 150,000 pigs which should have been slaughtered backed up on UK farms and farmers facing a costly cull.

READ MORE: Culling of pigs begins - and piglets are being euthanised

But livid pig producers say the Prime Minister appeared to treat it as a joke when he was tackled on the growing disaster in a TV interview with Andrew Marr.

A spokesman for the National Pig Association said Boris Johnson played down the prospect of an on-farm welfare nightmare "pointing out bizarrely that the pigs are going to be slaughtered anyway.

“When Mr Marr pointed out the obvious stupidity of the remark - pigs being slaughtered and incinerated versus going into the food chain - the Prime Minister added: ‘If I may say so, the great hecatomb of pigs you describe on farm has not taken place. Let’s see what happens'.

“Mr Johnson went on to blame the industry for the staff shortages in abattoirs, for not paying enough or creating attractive working conditions.”

The spokesman added: “Unsurprisingly the Prime Minister’s comments have prompted a furious industry response.”

Cameron Naughton, who farms 450 outdoor sows at West End Farm, near Devizes, said although he was fortunate compared to larger farms as 70 per cent of his stock is sold locally, he had 80 pigs that he cannot sell this week because of the crisis.

He said: “Boris Johnson’s comments were beyond crass and incredibly insensitive. No one understands why the Government is being so pig-headed, they seem content to throw the industry under a bus.”

Although Brexit had in part affected the industry by reducing the numbers of foreign workers.

He added: “The public will still be able to buy pork but that will be imported. All we are saying is for the Government to just allow workers in to clear the backlog and to allow the industry to continue to exist.

“People didn’t vote Brexit to see the destruction of the pig industry.

“Twenty years ago we had the foot and mouth crisis and that was an horrendous experience. But what we are seeing now could be as bad as that crisis, because we can’t move the animals, and what the Government is proposing is that pigs are killed on the farm and burnt. Nobody wants to see that.”

Alistair Driver of farming journal Pig World commented: “Having covered farming politics for more than 20 years, I have never seen such an appalling, ill-judged and ill-informed interview. It seems astonishing that it came from a man deemed worthy by some of holding the role of Prime Minister.

“The industry is in depth or arguably its biggest crisis and the backlash on Twitter and in my inbox has been predictably furious. But this is likely to be only the start.

“Mr Johnson’s comments clearly indicate has no intention of facilitating new short-term temporary visas for butchers to ease the backlog – even though his reference to ‘uncontrolled immigration’ is completely at odds with the short-term measures the meat sector is seeking.

“But even more worrying is the rhetoric, matched by the deafening silence from Defra as the industry spirals into crisis – the Government, from the top down, seems unaware that there is even a crisis or, more worryingly if it is aware, prepared to let animals and the industry suffer, rather than being seen to compromise on its misguided Brexit ideals.

“Nobody in the pig industry and wider food chain is suggesting that all the current problems are about Brexit, or that the Government can wave a magic wand and solve the problem. Covid and wider, in some cases, global, industry factors have also contributed to the ‘perfect storm’ we now see. Rest assured, the industry is working hard in its own solutions and urging retailers to play their parts, too.

“But Brexit has – undoubtedly – been a significant factor, not least the loss of access to EU workers in in our plants that has left them short of capacity and unable to process the pigs that are coming through on farms. And this is not about wages or conditions.

“There is much the Government could do to help, starting with a basic acknowledgement and understanding of the true problems the industry is facing through to the immediate issuing of temporary butchers’ visas to help ease the backlog.

“The Prime Minister’s stance is telling and deeply concerning, not just for the short-term future of our pigs and pig farmers, but for the longer-term as new regulation comes down the line and new post-Brexit trading arrangements are negotiated that could, if the Government wish, see UK pork replaced with cheaper product from elsewhere produced within vastly different systems.

“But if, as appears increasingly likely, the Government is prepared to sacrifice the British pig sector in pursuit of wider ideological goals, this proud industry will not take it lying down. It will, as it has done in the past, fight for its future. The Government is going to learn more about how the pig industry feels over the next few days.”

The UK pig sector has been protesting at the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester to raise awareness of the plight of the industry and to seek much-needed support from Government.