Scottish livestock producers can be rest assured the best of their beef and lamb will continue to be the star attraction this Christmas following the news that Scotbeef, Bridge of Allan, aims to be fully operational early next week, following a brief pause in production as a result of Covid-19.

Following a normal kill of cattle last Friday, the privately owned company and subsiduary of JW Galloway Ltd, temporarily suspended all operations over the weekend when a number of colleagues in the meat plant tested positive for the virus.

A massive track and trace of its 330 staff at Bridge of Allan meant production was completely stalled on Monday and Tuesday. However, with a large number employees testing negative for the virus, Scotbeef was back de-boning carcases on Wednesday and hoped to kill a small number of animals on Thursday (yesterday).

The incident could not have arisen at a worse time for the red meat industry with the last two weeks of November, early December, crucial to sourcing the best of Scottish beef and lamb for the lucrative Christmas market. As it was, Scotbeef was geared up for one of it's busiest weeks, with just shy of 2000 head of prime cattle about to be processed.

These cattle have since been killed at the company's Scotbeef Inverurie plant, and down south through its joint venture at Sheffield. Lambs have been slaughtered and processed through Scotbeef's Vivers Scotlamb plant at Annan.

Robbie Galloway, CEO of Scotbeef Ltd, was hugely greatful to the support from NHS Forth Valley, the Scottish Government, his staff and customers who include Marks & Spencer and Aldi supermarkets, all of whom, he said had been very co-operative and understanding.

"Everyone has been so supportive when it (the virus) appears to be spreading through Stirling like wildfire," he said. "We already had a strict track and trace monitoring system in place, but we have had to bring in stricter controls to get round this. The worst thing is not being in control due to the way the virus is so easily spread.

"We have had a brief pause in production, but we hope to get back to full capacity sometime next week, so that the incidence will have had minimal effect if any on meat supplies," said Mr Galloway.

"We take the welfare of our colleagues very seriously and are working with the relevant authorities to ensure everyone’s safety. From the point at which the virus emerged earlier in the year, we introduced comprehensive protection measures to ensure physical distancing, the use of PPE, and other working practices across all our plants.

"Frequent inspections of our plants by the relevant authorities confirmed that we have taken all necessary precautions however, given the size of our workforce and the rising levels in the wider local community, it is not unexpected that we would experience some positive cases during the ongoing pandemic," said Mr Galloway.

Confirmation of the incidence of coronavirus in the meat plant came from NHS Forth Valley's director of public health, Dr Graham Foster, who said: “We are continuing to work closely with local management. Although operations were temporarily suspended over the weekend whilst all staff were offered testing, the plant is not subject to any public health restrictions and is planning to restart operations this week.

He added that NHS Forth Valley's Test and Protect team had carried out Covid-19 contact tracing after a number of staff working at the Scotbeef meat processing company had tested positive for coronavirus. Those who had tested positive are self-isolating in line with national guidance and all staff have been tested as a precautionary measure.

Scotbeef is not alone in it's fight against the virus. Kepak, McIntosh Donald at Portlethen has also had to suspend part of it's operations, according to a statement from the NHS.

NHS Grampian Public Health Team is aware of cases of Covid-19 within the workforce at Kepak McIntosh Donald in Portlethen and is working with Kepak McIntosh McDonald and other partners to ensure all appropriate control measures are in place within the workplace."