Up to 400 jobs could be under threat if pork producers are not compensated for the contaminated feed scare, one of Northern Ireland’s largest companies claimed last night.
Cookstown Meats is leading calls for a £12.5 million compensation package across the industry after its goods were temporarily stripped from supermarket shelves at the height of the alert.
Producers north of the border are at a massive disadvantage compared to competitors in the Republic because of state aid there, managing director Seamus Carr added.
“It renders (at risk) 300-400 jobs if not the whole viability of the plant because we can’t continue with that un-level playing field,” he told Stormont’s Agriculture Committee,” he said.
He stressed he was not suggesting that Cookstown could be closed.
There is a compensation scheme in the Republic worth €180 million (£163 million).
Mr Carr said the industry here wants £2 million for product which had to be dumped, although the Health (Michael McGimpsey) and Agriculture ministers didn’t tell producers to destroy products, and the rest for returned food.
Liam McKibben, an under secretary at the Department of Agriculture, was asked about the separate problem facing beef farmers who have 7,000 cattle barred from the food chain.
They have been feeding those animals over Christmas without knowing what will happen to them or whether they will receive any money for them, the Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) has said.
Mr McKibben said the Executive was to consider the matter but refused to release details of any compensation being considered.
Committee chairman Tom Elliott said: “DARD have basically washed their hands of this small number of farmers by saying ‘we are not going to compensate you... the welfare issues are your problem, basically do what you want’.”
Mr McKibben rejected the suggestion and said Agriculture Minister Michelle Gildernew had advised producers to seek compensation under the arrangements provided by the Irish government.