O’Kane Poultry is looking to cut 140 jobs at its poultry processing plant in Ballymena, Co Antrim.

A series of meetings has taken place between management and workers at the plant outlining the company’s plans. Workers were told these include provision for at least 140 redundancies.

Responding to the news, the Ulster Farmers’ Union says the potential loss of these jobs is extremely regrettable and the union will be working with the senior O’Kane management to ensure the turkey growers who supply the company are retained as suppliers.

UFU president Graham Furey said: “It is a major blow to see so many jobs potentially being lost. Our role will be to find a way to ensure the turkey growers who supply O’Kane are retained by finding a way to use their poultry production facilities 12 months of the year”.

Commenting on recent changes to EU poultrymeat labelling legislation, which has been cited as a reason for the job losses at O’Kane’s, Graham Furey said: “The UFU has always pressed for clear and unambiguous labelling in the poultry industry. Until now this has not been the case and it was possible for imported frozen poultry meat to be de-frosted and sold to local consumers as a ‘fresh’ or ‘chilled’ product.

“O’Kane Poultry did not employ this practice, but it was occurring in the food chain and the issue needed to be addressed. The EU Commission has introduced new legislation which will prevent this and this will help provide consumers with more accurate information about the product they are buying”.

The UFU says the new legislation, which will take effect from 1 May 2010, will give more confidence to consumers in their purchases by ensuring that the information provided on poultry meat labels is not misleading.

It added the introduction of the new legislation should also produce new opportunities for the supply of fresh turkey and poultry meat for consumers and the local industry will be exploring how to deliver this.