Government employed vets and meat inspectors in Northern Ireland commenced a five-day strike yesterday which could cause major disruption for border controls and food production.
Union members in the Veterinary Service Animal Health Group (VSAHG) voted for the action over pay disputes.
This week’s strike means that no slaughter of cattle, pigs, sheep and poultry can take place across the whole of Northern Ireland as veterinarians will not be on site in abattoirs.
The British Meat Processors Association has warned of three ‘major issues’ including animal welfare, particularly in the pork sector, as pigs begin to back-up on farms.
Nick Allen, CEO of British Meat Processors Association, said its members are ‘extremely concerned’ over the lack of information and a contingency plan.
He said: “So far, our members have heard nothing from the Northern Ireland Civil Service about if and how they plan to prioritise veterinary cover in meat plants to avoid causing animal welfare issues and disruption to the food supply chain.
Mr Allen added that animals become too big and ‘out of scope’ for supermarket shelves, resulting in farmers unable to sell their livestock.
He said because of the numbers of animals involved, it will take months to recover from the loss of those five production days.
“The strike means that meat plants will have to cease operations, causing loss of income for those businesses, and disrupting food supply chains,” said Mr Allen.
“This is a particular worry as we enter the busiest period of the year in the run up to Christmas when our members are preparing festive products like hams and pigs-in-blankets for the Christmas market.”
Mr Allen says it could also prove sensitive for the UK government which is currently working on an agreement with the DUP over the Windsor Framework.
“The vets’ walkout could expose the scale of border checks that are still needed to get food from the UK mainland to Northern Ireland – even through the new ‘green lane’ – and will demonstrate that the Irish Sea border has not been removed,” he said.
“With Stormont still not sitting, this will inevitably end up back in Westminster. So, on behalf of producers and processors, we would urge Government to step in to engage with all parties, draw up some emergency plans and, ultimately, help to settle this dispute.”