The UK is in serious danger of losing its local, traceable meat supplies unless urgent government action is taken. This is the stark warning given to Defra in a response to its recent Health and Harmony consultation, by an alliance of organisations and individuals concerned about the rapid decline of smaller local abattoirs.

In their submission to Defra the Campaign for Local Abattoirs (CFLA) grouping, including the Sustainable Food Trust (SFT) and National Federation of Meat and Food Traders (NFMFT), as well as smaller abattoir owners and other experts, describe the crisis facing smaller abattoirs. Over a third have closed in the past decade, and a further 10% have already or are about to close so far in 2018.

Smaller abattoirs offer a specialist service of Private Kill, where farmers bring their animals for slaughter and receive back the meat and offal for sale to their customers, who can be assured that they are buying local, traceable meat. Without the smaller abattoirs, this is simply not possible. As more close, so distances to the nearest facility increase, until it is simply not financially viable for the farmer, and so farm shops, farmers markets, local butchers and mail order meat businesses will also face closure. This cycle has now reached a critical level, with several blackspots around the country where smaller abattoirs simply do not exist. This leads to animal welfare issues where they have to travel further to slaughter.

As the CFLA paper explains, the benefits of smaller local abattoirs go way beyond simply slaughtering farm animals. The Public Goods they produce include more of the economic benefits within the local community, reducing environmental damage from long road journeys, offering local employment, and acting as a catalyst for new local businesses to develop.

The reasons for this crisis are complex, but include strong downward pressure on profitability from high volume abattoirs supplying mass markets at low margins; increased costs of waste disposal; excessive regulation hitting smaller businesses disproportionately and low prices paid to small abattoirs for hides and skins.

The CFLA paper uses information from the recent SFT report on the subject. In its conclusions, the report calls on government to publicly recognise what a unique and vital part of the national food supply chain smaller abattoirs are; to establish an urgent in-depth enquiry to understand the many problems facing the sector; and with the help of the industry to come up with practical solutions, which could include mobile abattoirs which enable on-farm slaughter, especially in areas with no smaller abattoirs.

The CFLA submission concludes “It is essential that the smaller abattoir sector is viewed holistically and UK-wide. It requires a thorough understanding of the reasons for the continuing decline of the sector, and practical and effective measures which will facilitate its long-term sustainability.”

To read the full response click here.

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