Meat supplies to shops across the Midlands could grind to a halt this week as hygiene inspectors stage a five-day strike in a pensions dispute.

The region's 100 or so local government employed meat inspectors are taking part in the national action in response to Government plans to change the right of local government employees to retire at 60 after 25 years of service.

The protest, which started at midnight, is the first in a wave of industrial actions targeting individual sectors of local government.

Meat hygiene inspectors are now employed by part of the Food Standards Agency but as former council employees many are still in the same pension scheme.

Members will picket the Meat Hygiene Services Central Regional Headquarters at Wergs Road, Wolverhampton, from 7.30am today, with similar protests outside meat production plants across the country.

In Birmingham, 40 city-based meat inspectors check and stamp meat to indicate it has met health and safety standards during its production.

Asad Mumtaz, assistant financial manager at the Birmingham Halal Abattoir, in Bishop Street, Highgate, said workers would have to be sent home if its six-strong team of meat inspectors failed to turn up to work.

The plant, which employs 60-70 people, slaughters about 2,500 sheep and lambs a day and supplies butchers across the UK.

"We can't do our work if there is a strike by meat inspectors. We can't kill our animals because they have to be approved by the meat inspectors before they are slaughtered," he said.

"It will have a big effect on the shops we supply as well, so we hope the dispute will be resolved."

The strike follows last Tuesday's industrial action when 80,000 local government workers across the Midlands walked out.

Unison regional officer Andrew Johnson said: "The production plants may try and fly in staff from employment agencies at short notice, probably from Eastern Europe, but these people won't have the training or experience of our members."

Mr Johnson said it heralded the start of selective strikes in local government sectors, with another bout planned for April 25-27.