‘Alarm’ at 14 day Cranswick closure

The chairman of farmers co-operative Propark Ltd has written to DAERA Minister Edwin Poots to express ‘alarm’ at a 14 day closure of Cranswick in Cullybackey after a Covid-19 outbreak amongst workers.

Propork Ltd comprises nearly 50 members who supply 4600 finished pigs each week to Cranswick,

Writing on behalf of the co-operative, Chairman Trevor Shields warned of possible implications to animal welfare. He has called on Mr Poots to arrange an urgent meeting between the committee and Minister for Health Robin Swann.

He continued: “As Minister for Agriculture, we are sure you will understand the ramifications of this decision to pig farmers in Northern Ireland. Pigs unlike sheep or cattle cannot be left in the field for two weeks.

The production of pigs can be likened to a conveyor belt. Pigs are born, weaned and fattened in various housing and once they reach the required weight are moved on to the factory and their vacant housing is then filled with younger pigs coming forward. If anything disrupts this line of production it will cause immediate animal welfare problems with overcrowding, disease and fighting. Furthermore, the mental health and stress to the pig farmer is a very real issue,” Mr Shields warned.

“Once pigs become overweight their value drops dramatically. The current market for overweight fat pigs is limited and currently valued at the equivalent of 10p/kg. This is a reduction in value of over 90% of an “in spec” finished pig of the correct weight. Heavy pigs are not required by the factory as they are not only the wrong size for the cuts of meat required by the supermarkets, but also they cause factory breakdowns on the kill-line. Failure to move finished pigs at the correct weight will result in pigs having to be shot and destroyed which will not be a pleasant picture for anyone. Remember the scenes of animal destruction during the 2001 Foot & Mouth problem?

“We fully appreciate the need to successfully beat the Covid 19 problem, but surely if the staff at Cullybackey that have tested positive are isolated and the factory over the next few days is thoroughly deep cleaned – why is it necessary to close the factory for 14 days?”

Mr Shields pointed out that the outbreak was discovered after the close cooperation of Cranswick with the Health & Safety Executive (HSE), whereby routine testing of staff for Covid 19 was introduced.

“We are aware that other factories who refused to adopt this policy are still able to operate,” he claimed. “If pigs have to be destroyed in the coming days or sold at give-away prices, we assume there will still be assistance from Stormont, just like the aid beef, sheep and dairy farmers recently received from a Stormont Fund when they saw their prices fall. However the loss incurred by dairy, beef and sheep farmers was not as catastrophic as to what pig farmers are now facing. This problem will compound as each day progresses until a solution is found as to where the 12,000 pigs Cranswick Cullybackey kill each week will go.”

Meanwhile, TUV leader Jim Allister has said Cranswick must not be ‘vilified’.

He added: “Cranswick in closing has selflessly met the need of the moment, but it must be said that in addition, before reaching this point, the company, in my view, made sterling efforts to deal with the situation. Sadly, despite best efforts it was not enough and now loss to the farming community and the business is resulting.

“It is quite unfair to paint this company as the problem when Covid-19 is a community wide scourge and has been spread by the irresponsibility of many in the ways in which they show no regard for their own safety or that of others.

“The resulting crisis for the company’s farming customers is immense, with no outlet for their pugs over the coming weeks. This will create animal welfare problems and significant financial loss as overweight pigs fall drastically in value. The DAERA minister needs to urgently address this issue,” Mr Allister added.