Welsh Country Foods: 350 Anglesey jobs at risk

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Media captionThe site processes one in six of all the lambs produced in Wales

A lamb processing business on Anglesey says it could be forced to close with the loss of 350 jobs.

Welsh Country Foods said it was beginning a 90-day consultation exercise with unions and workers after "key customer" Asda pulled out.

The Unite union has pledged to work "strenuously" to see if a new business plan can be produced to save the threatened jobs.

Asda said the decision was not taken lightly but was due to changing needs.

The Welsh government said it had given a "substantial offer of support to develop the site" and the offer could be extended to any potential new owner.

Eindhoven-based food group Vion confirmed supplying Asda represents about 50% of business at its Gaerwen plant.

Jose Peralta, managing director of Vion's red meat business, described Friday as "an extremely difficult day" for everyone at Welsh Country Foods.

He said the company recognised the impact the decision would have on the local economy and the community in Anglesey.

"We are currently in discussions with the retailer to establish if their decision can be overturned and if any steps can be taken to mitigate their decision," he said.

Welsh Country Foods employs almost 350 staff, and is the major processing facility for Welsh lamb in north Wales, handling 640,000 lambs a year.

Vion took over from Grampian Foods in 2008, when the plant employed nearly 600 workers.

In a statement, Asda said it was serving notice on Welsh Country Foods after a "strategic review of our lamb business".

"This decision has not been taken lightly however we feel it is an opportune time to review our lamb sourcing to meet the changing needs of our customers.

"We have built a strong relationship with Welsh lamb farmers and we remain committed to sourcing lamb from the country."

Unite said the announcement was "desperately sad".

'Immediate priority'

Andy Richards, Unite Wales secretary said: "The news that Vion could shut its Welsh Country Foods site on Anglesey is a blow to those who work there, the local community and the economy of the island.

"This is a sad start to 2013 for our members and we will be doing all we can to ensure both support and a viable future for Welsh workers at Welsh Country Foods.

"We need investment, not cuts to jobs in Wales and I will be raising this matter urgently with the Welsh government."

Anglesey council leader Bryan Owen said the news was hugely disappointing but they hoped to meet Vion early next week.

"Our role now will be twofold - working with the company to see if there's anything we can do to help prevent job losses and, failing that, ensuring that there's a robust and co-ordinated public sector response to the redundancies," he said.

Dai Davies, chairman of Hybu Cig Cymru - Meat Promotion Wales, said he hoped a solution could be found to save the jobs.

"It is the last remaining major abattoir in north Wales, and as such plays a vital strategic role in serving farmers in the region."

He said if the plant closed it would be a "hammer blow" to the entire food and farming industry in Wales.

"We will not only lose hundreds of jobs but we will also lose the facilities provided by the plant itself - which include slaughtering, boning and retail packaging which all add value to the final product."

Local assembly member Ieuan Wyn Jones said he would be raising the matter with the Welsh government and he he would also be meeting faming unions on the island.

Dafydd Roberts, a local sheep farmer and chairman of the Farming Union of Wales' livestock, wool and marts committee, said: "Hopefully, discussions with Asda will lead to a change in their decision but if not then it will be imperative to attract new customers to the site."

'Substantial support'

NFU Cymru president Ed Bailey added: "This winter has been one of the worst possible for our farmers and this alongside the recent collapse in prices is devastating news."

A Welsh government spokesman said Vion's decision to enter into consultation with staff at Welsh Country Foods was very disappointing.

It said it its offer of support to develop the site could be extended to any potential new owner.

"The Welsh government will be discussing this development with the chairman of Vion UK Ltd early next week and will also engage with the site's key customer to ensure that there is a clear understanding that Welsh Country Foods has the full support of the Welsh government.

"This announcement comes at a time when the company is determining its future direction in light of the decision by its parent company to sell all UK assets."

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