Ashburton freezing works staff fear for future

Silver Fern Farms has denied its Fairton freezing works will be turned into a water-bottling plant.

It comes with news on Monday night that more than 300 staff at the Ashburton site are being called to a paid-meeting on Wednesday.

Jen Branje leads the Bung the Bore campaign and fears Fairton could one day be used to bottle water and ship it overseas.

"We're reasonably concerned about what might happen with the water consents there," she told Newshub.

Fairton is directly across the road from Lot 9, the controversial site behind Ashburton District Council's failed water deal, where it tried to sell the land to a bottled-water company.

Now questions are being raised whether the grass is greener on the other side - or in this case, water. 

"We believe that this is quite a possibility because of the deal with Shanghai Aqaurias Water, now they're all under the same company and they're all owned by the same people," Ms Branje said.

"So if those meat works aren't making money and they can't produce and export revenue via meat, their next best bet is through the water consents."

Silver Fern Farms were granted consent in 2015 to extract billions of litres of water a year up until 2033.

Shanghai Mailing Aquarius has a 50/50 joint venture with Silver Ferns, which owns the freezing works. It also has interests in water and owns a subsidiary that bottles water in China. 

But the Overseas Investment Office released a statement late on Monday, saying: "Water bottling and shipping water offshore were not included in the economic benefits/increased exports identified."

Production at Fairton has progressively been cut, with one of its second chains stopped last November. 

More than 300 workers have been called to a meeting which will take place on Wednesday.

There's speculation there could be job losses, or that the plant could close, with a drop in sheep numbers to blame.   

The fate of workers and the future of the Fairton plant should be revealed on Wednesday, but Silver Fern Farms says it has no intention to bottle water.