Trade reels as ABP axes Bathgate plant Irish-owned Anglo Beef Processors, the UK's biggest livestock slaughterer, offers the clearest evidence so far of financial stress in the sheep processing sector. The company is to close its dedicated lamb killing plant at Bathgate in southern Scotland. Strengthening prices for live lambs and surprisingly buoyant exports are giving a false impression of stability in the sheepmeat market. Producers no longer have to give away ewes and there is no heavy carryover of hoggets disrupting the trade this season, but processors claim the losses have merely been transferred from the farms to the abattoirs. Although other operators have quit lamb killing in recent months, this closure comes as a shock to the industry. The Bathgate facility has been seen as an icon of Scotland's sheepmeat sector since pioneering exports in its former guise as the Euroscot plant more than 20 years ago. Moreover, ABP proprietor Larry Goodman has won a reputation for being willing to invest in upgrading plants, not for shutting them. The company cites "serious losses" resulting from the familiar problems including over-valued sterling squeezing margins on its sales to the Continent as reasons for the closure. This news cannot bode well for the rest of the sheepmeat sector as Bathgate is not an inadequately financed minor player. News of the shutdown prompted expressions of sympathy even from producers, who have complained of BSE-related costs and the collapse skin market inflicting severe damage on their processing customers. But the farmers tend not to mention the price distortions caused by increasing live exports, too many slaughterers bidding for the diminishing numbers of lambs and hoggets, and the large proportion of poor quality stock. {{MEAT }}