A meat-processing company may not open plant near Dunedin this summer, threatening up to 180 jobs.
The Silverstream plant in Mosgiel operates as an overflow facility, further processing lamb from works in Canterbury and South Otago.
Silver Fern Farms is proposing to merge the Silverstream plant with the much larger Finegand plant near Balclutha. The plant's managers were told last Friday.
Some 180 seasonal meatworkers would normally be called in to Silverstream in December to work until May.
However, chief executive Keith Cooper said on Monday the lamb kill is down more than 8% nationally and booming Chinese markets are not wanting their meat boned so much.
Mr Cooper said he is giving the workers a heads-up that the plant may not be needed this year. He said he expects final decisions to be made by early next week.
Three weeks ago, Silver Fern Farms closed a skin-processing plant in Shannon, ending 86 jobs.
The Meat Workers Union says it is horrified workers are losing their jobs because the labour involved in cutting meat is heading to China.
Southern secretary Gary Davis says it means a return to the practices of 30 years ago when meat carcasses were exported without adding any value in New Zealand.
"We were at our conference in Palmerston North last week and it looks like everybody - and that includes all the Silver Fern farms - is going to be doing the same thing. It's just not something that's happened at Silverstream.
"Mr Cooper can say what he likes - he's exporting New Zealand jobs, that's all there is to it."
Mr Davis believed the trend to sell unboned meat to China would take the industry backwards.