The Meat Hygiene Service has insisted the Christmas meat supply will not be affected and that it can cope even if proposed strikes by inspectors go ahead.

The Unison trade union yesterday (Friday) balloted members for a 72-hour walkout over a pay and working conditions dispute with the MHS. If members did decide to strike, the union would have to give seven days' notice, so action would probably take place in the first two weeks of December.

If it did go ahead, contingency plans were in place that included the use of contract vets with the power to carry out inspections, said MHS chief executive Steve McGrath.

Plants would also have the option of increasing production in the run up to any strike, said McGrath.Unison was balloting over an outdated set of working conditions, he claimed, and the deal on the table offered staff a 6% to 8% pay increase.