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Quality Pork Ltd: Talks ongoing but Pilgrim’s UK says situation at Brechin plant ‘unsustainable’

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The future of Scotland’s only pork processing plant is hanging in the balance as crisis talks are held to find a way forward for Brechin’s state-of-the-art abattoir.

Pilgrim’s UK is the sole customer for the pigmeat processed at Quality Pork Ltd’s (QPL) Brechin plant, and the company says it has held talks over the future of the site and discussions are ongoing.

However, Pilgrim’s emphasised the current situation is “unsustainable”.

The news comes in the week the plant, which employs about 120 people, announced it had stepped up production to four days after operating a three-day week since January, when an outbreak of Covid resulted in it giving up a lucrative export licence with China.

The  Quality Pork Ltd abattoir at Brechin on a busy day.
The  Quality Pork Ltd abattoir at Brechin on a busy day.

That licence has not been reinstated by China despite the plant getting the all-clear by public health authorities a few weeks after the outbreak, and it is generally believed this is related to ongoing political tensions between China and the UK.

Pilgrim’s said: “We remain deeply committed to Scottish pig farmers and customers of Scottish-reared pork however the surrender of its China export licence has meant that the QPL abattoir in Brechin has become unsustainable.”

The chief executive of Scottish Pig Producers, Andy McGowan, played down the urgency of the situation, but confirmed talks with Pilgrim’s and other stakeholders – including the Scottish Government – had been taking place for some time.

Andy McGowan.
Andy McGowan.

“The situation is difficult and we have commercial challenges but we are not under any imminent threat of closure as far as I’m aware,” he said.

“Indeed we’ve been having these discussions with Pilgrim’s for months.

“We are working on finding a long-term business model and we have one of the most modern abattoirs in the UK, with a workforce that’s very committed and supplied by dedicated farmers, so we are certainly not beyond the stage of finding a happier outcome.”

Brechin is a valuable asset, and even if we got to the stage where Pilgrim’s couldn’t see a future, it doesn’t mean there’s not a future for the plant full stop.”

Andy McGowan

Brechin is not alone in its fight for survival as abattoirs for all livestock are struggling to maintain throughput due to a lack of staff, and the landscape for pork business across the UK has been extremely tough for several months.

The Scottish Government provided a hardship fund for farmers affected by the export licence suspension, but producers continue to face mounting losses, and the backlog of pigs on farms has reached over 10,000 animals.

There is growing concern over the backlog of pigs waiting to be processed.
There is growing concern over the backlog of pigs waiting to be processed.

Mr McGowan said: “Until Covid, we were a fundamentally sound business and  it worked away well both operationally and financially, and we are working hard at getting throughput up to help cover costs. So progress is being made.

“Brechin is a valuable asset, and even if we got to the stage where Pilgrim’s couldn’t see a future, it doesn’t mean there’s not a future for the plant full stop.

“The  challenges are around the commercial set up and the arrangements rather than  a problem with the running of the site itself.”

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