German minister urges meatpackers to work overtime to clear farm backlog

HAMBURG (Reuters) - Germany’s agriculture minister called on Friday for slaughterhouses and meatpackers to work at weekends and on public holidays to deal with a backlog of animals that has built up on farms during the coronavirus crisis.

FILE PHOTO: German Minister of Food and Agriculture Julia Kloeckner addresses a news conference in Berlin, Germany, October 21, 2020. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch/File Photo

Industry estimates are that 590,000 animals, especially pigs, are waiting to be slaughtered in Germany, agriculture minister Julia Kloeckner said. State subsidies to store unsold meat are one option but not planned immediately.

“The situation has been sharpened because of corona-related restrictions on the slaughtering capacity in the entire EU,” Kloeckner told an online meeting of farming associations.

Germany toughened working and health regulations in slaughterhouses and meatpacking plants after COVID-19 outbreaks.

Farming associations complain this cut slaughtering capacity and that pigs especially are having to be kept longer on farms although they are ready for sale, causing price falls.

Import bans on German pork imposed by China and other countries after African swine fever was found in wild boars in Germany have also depressed prices.

“Prices are also under pressure in Germany’s neighbouring countries, especially Belgium, the Netherlands and Denmark, because the loss of third-country exports by Germany is a burden on the entire (EU) internal market,” Kloeckner said.

The government is seeking to boost slaughtering capacity. An increase in the backlog of animals has been stopped as more slaughtering capacity was put into operation.

Kloeckner said she has asked Germany’s employment minister for a more flexible application of working regulations in slaughterhouses including working on Sundays and public holidays.

Farming associations want state subsidies of private warehousing to store unsold meat, she added.

Kloeckner said she has not excluded this option but the timing is important. This would not be sensible over the Christmas period when meat demand is high.

“Mid-January would be a suitable timepoint as demand in this period is from experience likely to be weak,” she said.

Reporting by Michael Hogan, Editing by Catherine Evans