Pig farmers will be forced to “slaughter their own animals” to dispose of them if the situation facing the industry does not change, the chairman of the National Pig Association has warned.

Rob Mutimer has called on the Government to “act now” to prevent the needless destruction of thousands of animals, as farms grapple with a lack of space and feed due to supply chain issues.

The sector has been hit by the news that abattoirs are running out of carbon dioxide (CO2), which is used in the humane slaughter of animals.

The problem has been caused by the shutting down of two large fertiliser plants in the UK – which produce CO2 as a by-product – with the owners citing the hike in gas prices as their reason for closing.

It has added to months of ongoing difficulties over a shortage of skilled workers, many of whom have gone back to Eastern Europe, which means abattoirs have already had to reduce the number of animals they kill by 25%.

As a result, farmers are running out of room to house their livestock.

Mr Mutimer told the PA news agency: “If the situation doesn’t change, it’s going to spiral completely out of control.

The CF Fertilisers plant in Billingham, Cleveland
The CF Fertilisers plant in Billingham, Cleveland, which has been shut down (Owen Humphreys/PA)

“And the only endgame there is we as farmers are going to end up slaughtering our livestock – not for the food chain but to put them into rendering, to dispose of carcasses like what happened in foot and mouth.

“And that’s a terrible situation to be in.

“The mental health implications and financial implication for our members really don’t bear thinking about because they’re in a terrible situation as we speak now, let alone if it gets worse.”

In a meeting with industry leaders on Monday, the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs was said to be “actively looking at the situation” and the department had agreed to hold daily meetings with the sector.

“From a pig farmer’s point of view, we’re already in a big muddle with getting pigs away from farms and this is the perfect storm,” Mr Mutimer said.

Pigs on a farm in Staffordshire
The British pig industry is estimated to have lost 22,000 sows as farmers fold under the pressure (Joe Giddens/PA)

“How we’re going to cope going forward with pigs not moving off farm and going through the supply chain, I don’t know.”

He added: “We desperately need Government to help us in the short-term to get our production systems working.

“They’ve worked really hard these people during the Covid period when there has been unprecedented demand. And at the end of that, to find the Government isn’t supporting us by getting the labour we need is really galling to many of us.

“Our farmers and members were absolutely desperate before this situation occurred at the end of last week. They have recorded record losses, they have severe cashflow problems because they’re not giving away the product at the right time. This just compounds it to make it an even worse tsunami of problems facing our sector.”

Lindsay Duncan, campaigns manager for the charity World Animal Protection, said: “From worker and lorry driver shortages to the rise in gas prices, recent events have highlighted how unsustainable our current farming system is.

“Large scale mass production of sentient beings causes suffering at an immense scale and to have to cull animals at the end of it just shows how broken this process is. We should be working towards a high welfare sustainable farming system which doesn’t rely on factory farms and focuses on consuming less animal products instead.”

The British pig industry is estimated to have lost 22,000 sows as farmers fold under the pressure, and it is predicted more producers will exit the industry over coming months should the market not improve.