EU law change hits Irish poultry firm

A poultry processor in Northern Ireland has blamed changes to EU legislation for forcing it to review company operations, with the possible loss of around 140 jobs.

O’Kane Poultry in Ballymena, which currently employs about 1,500 people, has confirmed that it has entered consultations with its staff and representative bodies over possible job cuts.

The company has attributed this course of action to new EU rules, due to come into force in May 2010, which will prohibit the sale of previously frozen poultry meat in the chilled state (unfrozen) state.

The changes will particularly affect peak demand products, such as turkey portions and barbecue items, claimed O’Kane, as current practice is to build stocks of these products throughout the year, which is now not allowed.

An O’Kane spokesperson said: “Products sold under the ‘previously frozen’ label were used to ensure adequate supplies at peak demand periods. For example, we would normally be starting to produce BBQ products by January or February to meet summer demand. However, as the new legislation is effective from May 2010, this will no longer be possible.

"This means that rather than being able to spread production and processing capacity over the year, these processes must now be concentrated for peak periods, leading to under-utilisation of capacity at other times of the year.”

The Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) has said the potential loss of jobs is extremely regrettable and the union will be focusing on working with senior management at O’Kane’s to ensure the turkey growers who supply the company are retained as suppliers.

UFU president Graham Furey said: “It is a major blow to see so many jobs potentially being lost. Our role will be to find a way to ensure the turkey growers who supply O’Kane’s are retained, by finding a way to utilise their poultry production facilities 12 months of the year.”