A FIGHT is on to save one of Herefordshire's last remaining slaughterhouses from the chop. Closing the Eardisley based Mead Webber abattoir could hit Herefordshire's 'faltering' farming sector as hard as the West Midlands losing Longbridge, it has been claimed, writes BILL TANNER.

The plant, with an annual throughput of around 500,000 sheep, was shut a week ago with the loss of 42 jobs. Co-owner Phil Webber put the blame on 'bureaucracy' over new hygiene regulations.

When Herefordshire Council met last Friday, leader Terry James told members that he had written to the Meat Hygiene Service (MHS) outlining concern at the course of events.

The closure, he said, was potentially as damaging to Herefordshire's 'faltering' farming industry as the loss of Longbridge to the West Midlands.

"I would hope that some serious consideration will now be given to how sensible and urgent measures can be taken to resolve this position," he said.

Eardisley ward councillor John Hope (Ind/Castle) called on the authority to consider the closure in terms of a 'knock-on' economic effect.

Herefordshire NFU takes the same tack. Chair Gordon Gilbert said the shutdown was a tragedy.

"Livestock will be forced to travel greater distances to be slaughtered at greater costs and the absence of one less buyer in the market will result in less money to the farmer," he said.

Over the border, both Brecon and Radnor MP Richard Livsey and his Conservative opponent Peter Gooderham are of the same mind. Mr Livsey is to put down parliamentary questions probing the role played by MHS inspectors in the closure, while Dr Gooderham is keeping Tory agriculture spokesperson Tim Yeo appraised as events unfold.

An MHS spokesperson said the organisation had 'nothing to do' with Mead Webber closing down, the decision lay solely with the abattoir's management.

A recent inspection, he said, had raised 'issues of concern' at the site and the MHS wanted to work with the owners to 'put things right'.

Nor is everyone unhappy to see Mead Webber go. Some Eardisley residents say the plant had outgrown its site and associated problems needed address.