14 January 2000

Lamb plant closure a devastating blow, claims NSAs chief

By Donald MacPhail

A LEADING sheep industry figure has described the closure of a major lamb plant as a devastating blow for producers.

National Sheep Association chief executive, John Thorley, says the decision by Anglo Beef Processors to shut its Wellingborough abattoir in Northants has left farmers facing big production difficulties.

About 60 employees were made redundant when ABP confirmed the closure last Friday. About half the production at the plant, which had recently been slaughtering 10,000 lambs each week, was for export.

"We are sad to see the plant close as it was one of ABPs first in the country," said a spokesman. "But Wellingborough was a dedicated lamb plant, and lamb is no longer part of the core operations for ABP."

But Mr Thorley believes Wellingborough was a key abattoir, not only for local producers. "Its closure will have a devastating effect on those who used the plant and leaves a serious vacuum. Many producers will have geared their production to the specific requirements of that abattoir. Now they will have to re-organise the whole production system to meet the requirements of another abattoir. Not all of these will match and this will bring extra costs."

The closure also reduces competition, which is already at a low point. Mr Thorley says the government must look at the distribution of abattoirs across the country "as a matter of absolute urgency".

Despite the Wellingborough closure, the company insists its other lamb plants are safe. The Bathgate, West Lothian, operation, with a throughput of 15,000 lamb a week, and a smaller plant at Lurgan in Ulster, are said to be "operating normally".

But Mr Thorley questions if this will continue long term because he believes Bathgate was 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 said it could sell the Wellingborough plant as a going concern. &#42