Labour and C02 shortages potentially ‘crippling’ for agri-food sector

West Tyrone MLA Declan McAleer has highlighted the shortage of EU workers and CO2 as potentially ‘crippling’ for the agrifood sector.

Speaking in the Assembly on Tuesday Mr. McAleer said: “We are facing a crisis in the pig industry as a result of labour shortages due to Brexit and a very hostile British immigration policy which has resulted in many of our EU workers leaving.

“It is estimated that about 25,000 pigs, which should have been culled, are backed up on farms. That will obviously have an economic impact on farmers and the food industry and it raises a potential welfare issue for those pigs. As we approach the Christmas season, this issue will become even more pertinent if it is not resolved.

“As Chair of the AERA Committee, I have written to the British Home Office and DEFRA to highlight these concerns and to make a number of asks around relaxing immigration rules, extending settled status beyond June, including butchers and processing workers on the shortage occupation list, and looking at the possibility of compensation for those impacted by the crisis.”

Mr McAleer continued: “To compound this crisis, there is a shortage of CO2 which is essential for the humane slaughter of pigs, and in other aspects of food processing such as packaging.

“There was a very bizarre exchange in the Assembly Chamber this week when my colleague Gerry Kelly raised the issue with the Economy Minister Gordon Lyons who stated that: “the issues ... are not pertinent to my Department.” — [Official Report (Hansard), 20 September 2021, p34, col 2].

“I cannot understand how the Economy Minister cannot work out that a shortage of CO2, which is so crucial to various industries across the North, is not pertinent to his Department. It is crucial that he reflects on that.”

Mr McAleer concluded: “Access to labour is crucial and the CO2 shortage are two immediate issues facing agri-food sector. If those issues are not acted on immediately, our agri-food industry, which is already under severe pressure, could be crippled.”

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