Bygone Days: Warning of food crisis is issued by angry farmers as strike continues (1974)

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Northern Ireland was facing a bleak and drastic food shortage within a few days if the loyalist workers’ strike continues.

That was the shock news from the farming industry during this week in May 1974.

Already transport and distribution problems are forcing farmers to pour thousands of gallons of precious milk down the drain.

In the next few days they would be forced to dump millions of eggs which cannot reach the market.

Each year the National Federation of Meat Traders meets at Harrogate to choose, among other things, Britain’s Best Sausage. In 1981, out of over 700 entries, David Burns, a long-established butcher from Bangor, distinguished himself in the competition by carrying home second prize for beef sausages, and third prize for his pork sausages. He was the only entrant from Northern Ireland. Picture: News Letter archives/Darryl ArmitageEach year the National Federation of Meat Traders meets at Harrogate to choose, among other things, Britain’s Best Sausage. In 1981, out of over 700 entries, David Burns, a long-established butcher from Bangor, distinguished himself in the competition by carrying home second prize for beef sausages, and third prize for his pork sausages. He was the only entrant from Northern Ireland. Picture: News Letter archives/Darryl Armitage
Each year the National Federation of Meat Traders meets at Harrogate to choose, among other things, Britain’s Best Sausage. In 1981, out of over 700 entries, David Burns, a long-established butcher from Bangor, distinguished himself in the competition by carrying home second prize for beef sausages, and third prize for his pork sausages. He was the only entrant from Northern Ireland. Picture: News Letter archives/Darryl Armitage

Meat production was grinding to a halt because factories cannot complete the killing and freezing process within the four-hour power periods.

Dockers were refusing to unload fruit and vegetables in Belfast and merchants say there would be a severe shortage by the beginning of the week.

The Ulster Farmers' Union during this week in 1974 protested at the “tragic consequences” to farming in the province.

And leading producers warned that if the power situation worsens the industry will be in a complete state of chaos.

It was showjumping day in Belfast at the start of May 1981 yesterday with the top riders competing in the Lord Mayor’s spectacular at the Botanic Gardens. Margaret Tolerton from Lisburn on Rossdale clears the jump. They were taking part in the Lord Mayor’s Prize event. Picture: News Letter archives/Darryl ArmitageIt was showjumping day in Belfast at the start of May 1981 yesterday with the top riders competing in the Lord Mayor’s spectacular at the Botanic Gardens. Margaret Tolerton from Lisburn on Rossdale clears the jump. They were taking part in the Lord Mayor’s Prize event. Picture: News Letter archives/Darryl Armitage
It was showjumping day in Belfast at the start of May 1981 yesterday with the top riders competing in the Lord Mayor’s spectacular at the Botanic Gardens. Margaret Tolerton from Lisburn on Rossdale clears the jump. They were taking part in the Lord Mayor’s Prize event. Picture: News Letter archives/Darryl Armitage

A leading figure In the poultry industry claimed: “This is pretty well malicious damage.

“There is a crisis looming up which could be the ruination of the entire industry.”

He said that if the situation did not radically improve, producers would have to begin the wholesale slaughter of hens.

The power cuts have already taken their toll among young broilers which rely on lighting and heat for survival.

It was showjumping day in Belfast at the start of May 1981 yesterday with the top riders competing in the Lord Mayor’s spectacular at the Botanic Gardens. Vine Lyons from Dumbarton House, Gilford, takes shelter under an umbrella with her sister Diane as she waits for the pony jumping event. Picture: News Letter archives/Darryl ArmitageIt was showjumping day in Belfast at the start of May 1981 yesterday with the top riders competing in the Lord Mayor’s spectacular at the Botanic Gardens. Vine Lyons from Dumbarton House, Gilford, takes shelter under an umbrella with her sister Diane as she waits for the pony jumping event. Picture: News Letter archives/Darryl Armitage
It was showjumping day in Belfast at the start of May 1981 yesterday with the top riders competing in the Lord Mayor’s spectacular at the Botanic Gardens. Vine Lyons from Dumbarton House, Gilford, takes shelter under an umbrella with her sister Diane as she waits for the pony jumping event. Picture: News Letter archives/Darryl Armitage

Mr William McCahon, president of the UFU, had pleaded with the Ulster Workers' Council, to re-examine its position.

“Lack of electricity is causing discomfort and danger to stock, mainly poultry, for which ventilation, light and heat depend on electricity,” he said.

“I am glad to say that so far we have had no reports of stock being short of meal.”

“I sincerely hope that the organisers of the strike will take positive steps to keep up supplies of meal for farm stock.

It was showjumping day in Belfast at the start of May 1981 yesterday with the top riders competing in the Lord Mayor’s spectacular at the Botanic Gardens. Eddie Macken on Carroll’s Onward Bound is pictured taking part in the Lord Mayor’s Prize event. Picture: News Letter archives/Darryl ArmitageIt was showjumping day in Belfast at the start of May 1981 yesterday with the top riders competing in the Lord Mayor’s spectacular at the Botanic Gardens. Eddie Macken on Carroll’s Onward Bound is pictured taking part in the Lord Mayor’s Prize event. Picture: News Letter archives/Darryl Armitage
It was showjumping day in Belfast at the start of May 1981 yesterday with the top riders competing in the Lord Mayor’s spectacular at the Botanic Gardens. Eddie Macken on Carroll’s Onward Bound is pictured taking part in the Lord Mayor’s Prize event. Picture: News Letter archives/Darryl Armitage

“A most serious situation has arisen already in the transport and distribution of fresh and processed food.

“Already slaughter of fat cattle at the meat factories has ceased and there has been a sharp reduction in pig slaughter.

“Large quantities of milk have been poured out and wasted and within days eggs will have to be dumped.

“All these developments will have most serious effects on farming. Within a short period they will also affect supplies to consumers.”

He added: “There will be shortages of food in the shops.

“The organisers of the strike stated their intention that farming was to be exempt from the effects.

It was showjumping day in Belfast at the start of May 1981 yesterday with the top riders competing in the Lord Mayor’s spectacular at the Botanic Gardens.Eleven-year-old Marcus Swail from Crossgar with Hawnog, who won the 128 cm speed and open pony. Picture: News Letter archives/Darryl ArmitageIt was showjumping day in Belfast at the start of May 1981 yesterday with the top riders competing in the Lord Mayor’s spectacular at the Botanic Gardens.Eleven-year-old Marcus Swail from Crossgar with Hawnog, who won the 128 cm speed and open pony. Picture: News Letter archives/Darryl Armitage
It was showjumping day in Belfast at the start of May 1981 yesterday with the top riders competing in the Lord Mayor’s spectacular at the Botanic Gardens.Eleven-year-old Marcus Swail from Crossgar with Hawnog, who won the 128 cm speed and open pony. Picture: News Letter archives/Darryl Armitage

“It would appear that the organisers do not appreciate the dependence of farmers on the supply industry and on transport and processing of livestock products.”

He concluded: “I would ask them urgently to re-examine the position.”

The cost to the industry was staggering, reported the News Letter and Farming Life.

Bacon producers had lost £780,000 in exports to England that week.

The meat should have gone by Larne-Stranraer route but was not allowed through by pickets.

Egg producers were losing £150,000 every day in exports.

The milk situation had cost the Milk Marketing Board £300,000 so far with costs soaring every day.

The build-up of meat in processing factories was reaching the stage when there would soon be no more room.

Power cuts meant that refrigeration units cannot cope. Meat in storage and unable to get to the market would begin to go bad it was warned. And farmers would be forced to keep animals longer.

A spokesman for the Ulster Curers' Association said: “The situation is deteriorating rapidly. If the strike was to be called off tomorrow it would take four weeks for the industry to clear the backlog. For every day the strike continues it will take a further seven days to clear up."

Dr George Chambers, chairman of the Milk Marketing Board, said: “The industry is in an awful mess already.”

And he warned that if power cuts worsened it would lead to a complete breakdown.

“Even as it is we cannot produce cheese and other by-products.

“It could soon reach the stage where farmers are bringing milk in churns into Belfast to sell to housewives.”

The possibility of sales of unpasteurised milk in the streets with its attendant risk of infection was already worrying health experts.

Deputations from the farming industry had met Unionist MPs in attempts to get the industry moving again.

The main problem, they said, was that strikers did not appreciate how vital transport and distribution were to the farming community.

One producer said he had been assured by the UWC that food was listed under essential services.

“But the fact is that when we send goods to the Larne ferries they are still being turned away by the men at the docks,” they remarked.