On Friday, Britain’s National Pig Association warned that there was a backlog of 120,000 pigs that should have gone to slaughter because of labour shortages in pork processing plants. The backlog has left many farmers with a difficult decision as overcrowding compromises animal welfare, leaving many facing an imminent cull.

The shortage of butchers and slaughterers has seen meat processing drop to 75% of capacity despite demand remaining high. The pig associations contended that many retailers were looking at procuring pork from EU sources, citing that it is much cheaper.

“This would make our situation so much worse to the point that many more pig producers, in addition to those responsible for the 27,500 sows we already know about, would have no choice but to exit the industry,” the association said in an open letter to retailers.

Britain’s labour shortages have been exacerbated by the pandemic and Brexit, with many east European workers no longer able to take up jobs in often-unpopular sectors such as meat processing. The association had called on the government to ease immigration rules to solve labour shortages but the talks came to an impasse.

Britain has experienced a number of challenges in recent weeks, with some suggesting Brexit is to blame. The UK has seen fuel shortages at petrol stations partially due to a lack of tanker drivers, and soaring energy prices that forced some fertiliser plants to shut down, which in turn have impacted the meat processing industry because of a shortage of carbon dioxide gas used in processing.