Jobs under threat at Foyle meats

There has been a decline in locally reared lambs available for slaughter
Image caption There has been a decline in locally reared lambs available for slaughter

Up to 85 positions at Foyle Meats are at risk of redundancy, its parent company Foyle Food Group has said.

Based in Campsie, County Londonderry, Foyle Meats has a processing capacity of 1,500 cattle and 12,000 lambs per week.

At its peak, the Foyle Group was Northern Ireland's biggest exporters of lambs.

It processed up to 400,000 carcases a year and won supply contracts in France and with Tesco throughout the UK.

The Foyle Food Group, which is controlled by the Acheson family, also owns Omagh Meats, Donegal meat, Foyle Proteins and Hilton Meats.

The group as a whole employs more than 750 people, with 260 of those working at Foyle Meats.

While farmers and supermarkets have been making money from a buoyant lamb trade, processors claim their margins have been squeezed.

The Foyle Group has blamed a sharp a decline in sheep production and said with falling throughput it could "no longer justify the slaughter and processing of lambs at its Foyle Meats plant and so will shortly close its lamb facility".

A statement from the company said that between 2007 and 2009, the total number of lambs processed in Northern Ireland fell by 29%.

There has been a further reduction of 25% since the start of 2010.

The company said it would work closely with the Unite union to minimise job losses and explore other job opportunities within the group.

The closure of its lamb line will also mean less competition for the lambs produced by local farmers.

The Ulster Farmers' Union said the announcement raised fresh concerns about the wellbeing of the sheep sector in Northern Ireland.

"The number of breeding ewes in our sheep flock has fallen by half a million in the last decade," said UFU President John Thompson.

"A once thriving sheep sector is now downsizing at an alarming rate and Foyle Meats is the latest casualty."

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