Reports of “chaotic conditions” at Belfast Corporation’s new £1½ million meat plant at Duncrue Pass have been countered by the city veterinary department.
Last week there were reports of cattle having to “stand around for up to three days before being slaughtered”, animals being turned away at the gates and elementary mistakes being made in the identification of carcases.
One city flesher, a member of the Northern Ireland Master Butchers’ Association, described the new plant as a “£1½ million constipated white elephant” and called for an immediate public inquiry into the chaotic conditions at the plant.
He told FarmWeek: “When a plant this size opens one must, admittedly, expect some snags. But when cattle are turned down and the plant is unable to cope fully with the butchers’ requirements – in the off-season at that – then something is drastically wrong. Unless the situation improves quickly I can visualise a shortage of beef.”
Another butcher alleged that lorries were having to queue for three hours to unload and that the plant generally was “all clogged up”.
The workers, he said, did not appear to be properly trained for the job “with all sorts of blunders cropping up”.
However, it would appear that the Belfast wholesalers generally, while not entirely satisfied with the present conditions at the plant, are prepared to “wait and see”. Of the five wholesalers contacted by FarmWeek last week only two would comment on the position at the plant.
One wholesaler would go no further than admit he had difficulty “getting the stuff killed” while another, Mr J B Megahey, a director of Lagan Meats Ltd, said that he was “not completely satisfied”.
But he added: “There are a lot of minor problems. But one has got to bear in mind that, with a plant this size, some teething troubles are only to be expected. On the whole the Corporation deserves some credit for the way the plant has got underway.”
Deputy City veterinarian Mr W T Morrow told FarmWeek that with a plant of such magnitude it was inevitable that there would be some teething troubles. The wholesale area was not complete due to the protracted negotiations which the wholesalers had with the Ministry.
“This delayed the plant considerably and, in fact, the wholesale area did not get started until about a year ago. However, it is hoped that it will be completed by June or July.”
The main plant was completed about the end of September but it had to start paying for itself from April 1969.
The Corporation had a responsibility to the city’s ratepayers. If the Corporation had stayed in Stewart Street until the wholesale premises had been entirely completed by June 1970, the costs would have been astronomical.
“This is naturally a difficult period. It is a very big project and some teething troubles are, as I have said, only to be expected. There are the odd snags with the sophisticated operations and machinery.
“There are one or two items which require modification but we hope these will be ironed out within the next few weeks.
“In addition to this,” said Mr Morrow, “it must be remembered that the entire staff is new to the plant and there are certain minor organisational problems which are in the process of being worked out.”