12 January 2000
ABP closure ‘devastating’ for sheep business

By Donald MacPhail

CLOSURE of Anglo Beef Processors Wellingborough lamb plant is a “devastating” blow for producers, says a leading sheep-industry figure.

National Sheep Association chief executive John Thorley says the decision to shut the Noprthamptonshire abattoir has left farmers facing major production difficulties.

And the removal of such a big player will further reduce competition in a market which has seen smaller operations squeezed in recent years.

ABP closed the Wellingborough unit, which had recently been slaughtering 10,000 lambs each week, on Friday.

Around half of the production at the plant was for export, and the company has made about 60 people who worked at Wellingborough redundant.

The company says it made the decision to close because sheepmeat is no longer part of its core business.

Mr Thorley said: “Wellingborough was a very important abattoir, and not only for producers from that area.

“Its closure will have a devastating effect on those who used the plant and leaves a serious vacuum.”

He added: “Many producers will have geared their production to the specific requirements of that abattoir.

“Now they will have to re-organise their whole production system to meet the requirements of another abattoir.

“Not all of these will match, and this will bring extra costs.

“In addition, they will have to track down another abattoir which would suit them, which is another struggle.

“The closure of the plant also has the negative stimulus of reducing competition, which is already at a low point, even further.”

Mr Thorley said the government must look at the distribution of abattoirs across the country “as a matter of absolute urgency”.

He also called for the Pooley working groups radical proposals to reduce the red tape surrounding the meat inspection system to be introduced without delay.

A spokesman for ABP said: “We are sad to see the plant close as it was one of ABPs first in the country.

“But Wellingborough was a dedicated lamb plant, and lamb is no longer part of the core operations for ABP.”

ABP claims to have invested about 30 million over the past three or four years in its beef processing operations.

Despite the closure at Wellingborough, ABP insisted that its other lamb plants are safe at Bathgate, West Lothian; and Lurgan, Armagh in Northern Ireland.

The Bathgate operation, with a throughput of 15,000 lambs a week, and the smaller Ulster plant are said to be “operating normally”.

However, Mr Thorley questioned whether this would continue in the long term as he believed Bathgate had been the cutting plant for Wellingborough output.

ABP, which last year had a turnover of 400m, has four abattoirs in England and two each in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

It also has frozen food and packing units, and said it would be prepared to sell the Wellingborough plant as a going concern.