UNCERTAINTY hangs over the future of more than 1,600 jobs at Malton bacon factory – Ryedale’s biggest employer – after it was announced the site is to be sold.

Dutch-based food producer Vion NV is to sell its UK food businesses, which in total employ 13,000 people at 38 sites.

Vion NV took over the Malton factory, in Hugden Way, Norton, in 2008 when the company bought Grampian Country Food Group.

The business says it wants to concentrate on its core markets in the Netherlands and Germany and the development of its global ingredients business.

It is confident it will be able to sell the UK pork, red meat and poultry business units as ongoing viable businesses.

Peter Barr, chairman of Vion UK, said: “Working with our advisors Rabobank/Rothschild, we have already started detailed discussions with a number of interested parties, including management, regarding the acquisition of the various parts of the UK business and these are progressing well.

“The level of interest in the businesses has been strong and we hope to be in a position in the near future to give further details about the progress which has been made.

“The sale process will be completed in a smooth and orderly fashion to ensure business continuity for our employees, agricultural and other suppliers and our customers.”

Peter Garbutt, chief livestock adviser for the National Farmers Union (NFU), said: “This will be of obvious concern to Vion’s poultry and livestock farmer suppliers, supermarket customers and I’m sure their staff as well.

“We have been reassured by the comments from Vion UK chairman Peter Barr and the NFU will be getting in contact with the company to better understand the potential implications for our members.”

Norton mayor, Coun Di Keal, said: “This is a big blow to Norton and the wider area as a substantial number of local people are employed by Vion. It is very unfortunate that they have decided to pull out of operating in the UK especially in the current economic climate when employment is hard to find.

“I would appeal to the company to ensure that these local jobs can be safeguarded for the people concerned as part of any negotiations over the sale of the business to a new operator.”