Meat & Livestock News

Northern Ireland’s Meat Industry Braces for Impact Amid Official Vets’ Strike

Chicken carcasses suspended on the equipment at the chicken processing factory close-up

In the wake of a planned strike by official veterinarians in Northern Ireland, the British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) has highlighted that the slaughtering of livestock—cattle, pigs, sheep, and poultry—cannot proceed without the presence of these vets in abattoirs.

The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (Daera) of Stormont, which is responsible for employing these vets, has announced a prioritisation of staffing at poultry factories to mitigate the impact on the food supply chain.

The strike, scheduled from 30 October to 3 November, has prompted Daera to declare that it cannot guarantee official controls and activities across all slaughter and animal processing establishments. 

However, to lessen the potential adverse effects on animal health and welfare, Daera plans to prioritise the slaughter and processing within the intensive livestock sector, starting with poultry, and will review and adjust service provision daily as possible.

The red meat sector, understanding the importance of the period leading up to Christmas, intends to maintain operations at major plants and does not foresee a shortage for consumers.

The sector acknowledges the reasons behind the strike but expresses concern over the financial burden being placed on farmers due to the industrial action.

The strike by the Nipsa union, representing the vets, is a response to what they describe as a “derisory pay award” and a lack of engagement from Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris on the matter.

The union stresses the essential role of its members in maintaining the food chain and facilitating trade flow, especially under the post-Brexit Irish Sea trade border arrangements.

The industrial action could disrupt the movement of “red lane” goods—food products entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain that are either destined for the Republic of Ireland or have an uncertain final destination.

These goods require checks, unlike “green lane” goods, which remain in Northern Ireland and are subject to less stringent processes.

There is concern that the suspension of slaughter in the absence of veterinary supervision could lead to a backlog of pigs on farms, with potential penalties for overweight animals and no compensation for farmers. This could impact farmers’ income during a period of high demand ahead of Christmas.

Daera has advised that during the strike, green lane products will continue to be sent as usual, with the necessary paperwork to be completed retrospectively.

Retail representatives urge consumers not to panic buy, reassuring that the supply chain is being managed and that the impact on shop shelves should be minimal in the short term.

Nonetheless, the strike poses a significant challenge for non-supermarket operators, such as wholesalers and food service providers, who rely more on the red lane and may need to divert shipments to Dublin.

The movement of livestock is also affected, with Daera advising traders to make alternative arrangements or defer the movement of animals until after the strike.

The UK government has stated it is working closely with Daera to mitigate the effects of the industrial action on the food supply chain and to uphold essential statutory obligations.

Set of Facts:

  • Official veterinarians’ strike is planned from 30 October to 3 November in Northern Ireland.
  • Daera prioritises poultry processing during the strike.
  • The red meat sector expects to maintain operations without consumer shortages.
  • The strike is in response to a pay dispute and lack of engagement from the Northern Ireland Secretary.
  • The strike may disrupt the movement of “red lane” goods and lead to a backlog of pigs on farms.
  • Retail representatives advise against panic buying, expecting minimal short-term impact.
  • The UK government is working to mitigate the strike’s effects on the food supply chain.