Belfast Telegraph

Jobs in danger as lamb plant closes

By Margaret Canning

Up to 85 jobs are at risk in Co Derry after a food company announced the closure of its lamb processing plant.

Foyle Food Group said it was closing the facility at Foyle Meats in Campsie because of a declining number of lambs available for slaughter.

The number of lambs processed in Northern Ireland since 2007 had fallen by more than 50%, the group said.

A spokesman added: "The company can confirm that there will be up to 85 positions at risk of redundancy. However, we are working closely with our recognised union, UNITE, to try to minimise these job losses by exploring other potential job opportunities within the Foyle Food Group."

The Ulster Farmers' Union said the closure highlighted a steep decline in the sector.

President John Thompson said: "The number of lambs processed in Northern Ireland in the first six months of 2010 is 27% lower than the corresponding period in 2009. The number of breeding ewes in our sheep flock has fallen by half a million in the last decade.

"A once thriving sheep sector is now downsizing at an alarming rate and Foyle Meats is the latest casualty. A lack of profitability at farm level is seeing farmers produce much fewer lambs for processing".

He said it was almost impossible for Northern Ireland lamb processors to make a profit. "Foyle Meats was one of our largest lamb processing operations, with excellent facilities and contracts to supply leading retailers. It should have been an ongoing success story, but instead we see falling production at farm level and job losses in food processing.

"This once again vindicates our concern that supermarkets are enjoying the vast majority of the profits in the food chain while their local suppliers are facing enormous challenges to break-even".

Meanwhile, the union has mediated at a meeting between food processor O'Kane Poultry and a committee representing some of its growers. The union said growers expressed concerns including current returns and payments, communication with growers and grower contracts.

Mr Thompson said the meeting represented "the first step" towards improving financial returns for O'Kane's growers.

"The UFU will continue to support the growers committee and the wider poultry industry during these challenging times. It is important that there is regular communication between the two parties so that together they can work towards a profitable future for the whole industry."

Last month Moy Park announced it was acquiring O'Kane for an undisclosed sum. Speaking at the time, Mr Thompson said he was confident the union would be able to resolve the concerns of growers with Moy Park and ensure O'Kane growers were successfully integrated with Moy Park.