A COVID-19 outbreak at Scotland’s only pig abattoir has left producers with a backlog of stock, quickly diminishing in value as the plant closes its doors for two weeks.

Quality Pork Limited, in Brechin, took the decision to close its doors for a fortnight on Saturday, January 23, after 19 of its staff tested positive for the virus.

A company statement said: “The decision has been made as a result of the impact of Covid-19 on our workforce and the high level of absenteeism at the site which has made maintaining safe operations extremely difficult.

“All affected colleagues are being fully supported to self-isolate in line with government guidelines, and we are working closely with public health authorities, Scottish Government and farmers to help manage the situation.”

Andy McGowan of the Scottish Pig Producers told The SF that the situation is 'in hand', and that they are working closely with farmers to source additional accommodation for the pigs. However, there is concern that some pigs could become too heavy and fall out of specification.

“We can can hold pigs in an appropriate facility for a longer period, but the challenge will be getting out of specification commercially, so the economic hit could rise week by week,” Mr McGowan explained.

He pointed out that there has already been a big build-up of pigs across the UK over the past six months: “Even without plant closures due to Covid outbreaks, it is hard to run processing plants at normal capacity because of social distancing, which reduces throughputs and has been putting the industry under pressure,” he continued.

“The Brechin facility is key for the longer sustainability of the Scottish pig industry and to ensure livestock does not have to travel long distances. We believe we should maintain processing in Scotland for all manner of reasons and to ensure we retain economic activity in Scotland as opposed to elsewhere.”

Calls for financial support for pig farmers have been issued by the Scottish Conservative’s farming spokesperson Jamie Halcro Johnston: “It appears the option of moving stock to other facilities to be processed isn’t available, and a two-week shutdown of the plant could see the price of each animal drop by around 40%.

“That’s why it is important that the SNP Government moves quickly to provide support and should consider introducing a scheme like the one just being rolled out in Northern Ireland,” he suggested.

The Executive in Belfast has just introduced a £2.2m compensation fund to deal with the after-effects caused by the Covid-19 related closure of Cranswick County Food in County Antrim in the summer.

“The UK Government has provided billions of pounds of additional funding to help combat the impact of Covid-19 in Scotland but, too often, Scottish ministers have been slow to use it and even slower to get it to those businesses that need it,” claimed Mr Halcro Johnston. “Pig farmers impacted by any Covid-19 outbreaks need the SNP Government to move more quickly and get this scheme set up.”

Mr McGowan concurred that any financial support would be welcomed, to compensate for the ‘significant losses incurred by farms, outwith their control’ and agreed that rather than ‘reinvent the wheel’ the industry would welcome a package similar to that administered across the water.