Pig farmer Oliver Stocker says it’s not economically viable to send his pigs elsewhere. (ABC News: Manika Dadson)
Tasmanian producers are warning they may not be able to supply Christmas ham and pork this year if a major abattoir in the state’s north closes.
- The Devonport abattoir which processes almost all of Tasmania’s pigs will close on November 15 unless a new operator is found
- Tasmania’s butchers may be unable to source local ham during the peak Christmas demand
- About 100 people will lose their jobs if the closure goes ahead
On Monday, abattoir operator JBS told the State Government it would walk away from the Devonport City Abattoir on November 15th.
The abattoir processes almost all of Tasmania’s pigs, and employs about 100 people, who have been told they will likely not have a job unless another operator is found.
Pig farmers held a meeting near Launceston on Tuesday morning to discuss the fallout from the decision to close the plant.
Alan Broomby, a pork producer near Exeter, said it risked leaving Tasmanian butchers and delicatessens unable to source local ham during a period of peak demand.
“All the producers have got pigs ready for Christmas now, and there’s a lot of customers, our smaller butchers and everyone relying on the Tasmanian pigs for their pork and hams for Christmas,” Mr Broomby said.
“We are hanging in the balance.
“Our immediate thoughts and ideas are [focused on] what we’re going to do in the next few weeks, because we need to get rid of pigs after that date, because pigs have still got to go somewhere.”
Christmas ‘peak period’ for pork producers
Pork producer Oliver Stocker, from near Glengarry in the state’s north, produces specialty pork products sold to butchers and at produce markets.
He only has two pigs killed a fortnight, making it difficult to economically have them killed any further afield.
“If it goes ahead, which I very much hope it doesn’t, it’s basically the end of our business,” he said.
“I don’t really see how we can make it work any other way.”
Guy Robertson from Mount Gnomon Farm in Tasmania’s north-west said the potential closure risked damaging Tasmania’s image.
Producers have pigs ready for Christmas now, and fear the JBS Abattoir closure could “devastate” the industry. (ABC News: Declan Gooch)
“It’s part of the Tasmanian dream, coming to Tasmania, running your own livestock and having access to a small abattoir that can process it,” Mr Robertson said.
“We’re coming into the peak period for all pork producers and all butchers really. And in Tasmania and Australia, it’s the time of year where you do actually make your money,” he said.
“We’re about to launch our Christmas orders now. Last year we had 350 to 400 orders and most of them were in by early December.”
The Devonport abattoir supplies Launceston butcher Phillip Oliver with all of his pork and lamb.
“I don’t know what the alternative would be. Hopefully the Government can sort out some sort of a takeover and keep the plant going.”
Pork producers desperate for a ‘plan B’
The Government said it would try to find an alternative operator, or find an interim solution, but Mr Broomby said so far there was no “plan B”.
“We’re hoping someone out there may be able to come and [take over] and the Government might be able to help us in that process,” he said.
East coast pork producer John Tucker said the closure could lead to “devastation” within the industry, but remained optimistic.
“There’s a possibility that smaller abattoirs could step up to the mark and we could have someone step in and operate the JBS plant,” Mr Tucker said.
But Mr Broomby said it was unlikely any other abattoir would be able to take up the slack.
“The big thing is, I don’t believe anyone would have the capacity to hold that many pigs, killing 600 pigs a week.”
Tasmanian Labor spokeswoman Michelle O’Byrne said the Government must ensure there was an alternative.
“It’s the Government’s job now to immediately engage to make sure there is a processing facility available for our producers,” Ms O’Byrne said.
She also called on JBS to ensure workers received the appropriate entitlements.