Production has resumed at Cranswick’s factory in Cullybackey, Ballymena, which was shut for nearly two weeks following an outbreak of COVID-19.
A Cranswick spokesperson said production started today and will ‘ramp up early next week’. Production was suspended at the site at on August 22, after 35 cases of COVID-19 had been identified among the plant’s 500 workers. All staff were sent for testing and workers were required to self-isolate for 10 days where results were positive and 14 days where negative, which is why the plant was shut for two weeks.
Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) president Victor Chestnutt said was it was ‘positive news’ that the site has re-opened, adding that the news will be ‘well received among our pig producers’.
The plant is one of the biggest in Northern Ireland, processing thousands of pigs a week and when news of the closure emerged, Mr Chestnutt expressed concerns that it could result in a backlog of pigs on farms. He warned of a potential crisis on Northern Ireland pig farms and said many members had contacted the union expressing ‘grave concerns about possible serious short and long term consequences’.
But following news of the re-opening, Mr Chestnutt said processors had worked together to minimise the problem.
“The UFU committed a lot of time and resources to minimise the impact of Cranswick’s closure hosting discussions with ministers, officials and pig processors, to get the factory up and running again as soon as it became a safe environment for staff and farmers to return to,” he said.
“The safety of everyone remained a priority while we worked to ensure that the pig trade was not disrupted and farmers were not left struggling to house pigs for lengthier periods than initially planned.
“We want to thank the processors for working together, helping us to get to this stage. We encourage them to continue working together in such an effective manner, maximising the throughput of pigs and alleviating any backlog which may have been starting to occur on farms.”
The cases at the plant were part of a wider outbreak that saw 79 new cases over a week in a part of County Antrim, which Cranswick said has been ‘acknowledged as a community issue’.
“The health and safety of all of our colleagues has always been our number one priority and we have done everything we can to protect our Ballymena team,” a spokesperson said, adding that the processor had been working with the regulatory agencies throughout.