Moy Park, owned by US meat giant Pilgrim’s Pride, is to halt some production on a temporary basis at its factory in Ballymena, Northern Ireland.

The meat processor has blamed “challenging market conditions” for a decision to temporarily halt some production at the Co. Antrim site, while a trade union has voiced concerns the decision could lead to mass job losses.

The company will cease processing of live birds at the Ballymena plant – and at an associated hatchery – but other production processes will continue there.

Around 1,700 people are employed at the site. The Belfast Telegraph newspaper reports that it understands no job losses are being considered with staff being moved to other sites or to other roles until production fully resumes.

Trade union Unite, however, has said they are concerned the decision could result in the loss of up to 400 jobs.

Sean McKeever, regional officer for the union, is reported as saying it is “highly concerned” that the closure may result in job losses.

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By GlobalData

In a statement sent to just-food, a spokesperson for Moy Park said: “Moy Park is proposing to temporarily cease processing live birds at Ballymena due to challenging market conditions, with the view that we will re-open the line in January 2020. In line with this it is proposed the North Antrim Hatchery will temporarily cease hatching until November 2019. We will continue to cut, further process and pack at Ballymena, including retail production of our BBQ products.

“We are currently working with our colleagues and their representatives doing our utmost to minimise the impact of this proposal on our excellent workforce, including offering temporary transfers to other shifts and roles.

“We will also be working closely with our farming partners throughout the process to manage this temporary reduction in poultry requirement.”

Moy Park is one of Northern Ireland’s largest employers and a huge buyer of poultry on both sides of the border.

It was bought by JBS from fellow Brazilian meat giant Marfig for GBP1.2bn (US$1.58bn at today’s rate) in 2015 before being sold on to Pilgrim’s Pride – a subsidiary of JBS – in September 2017 for GBP1.3bn.