The continuing decline of small abattoirs is bad for animal welfare and runs against the growing public demand for local, traceable meat.
Small abattoirs provide multiple public goods and are essential to the future of local, traceable meat production in the UK, according to an expert panel at the Future of UK Farming Conference , organised by the Sustainable Food Trust. 
Yet as a recent report  by the Sustainable Food Trust shows, without urgent action there will soon be no small abattoirs left in large parts of the country. A third of small abattoirs have closed in the last decade and more are continuing to go out of business. This undermines the ability of farmers to diversify and sell meat locally, it raises questions for animal welfare, as livestock are transported further and it can dramatically increase costs for producer-retailers marketing their meat locally. 
The panel, which included a farmer-retailer who has just built an on-farm abattoir, a small abattoir owner and butcher, an environmental health officer, a co-author of the SFT’s report and a land agent, discussed the reasons why the sector is challenged. These included the high costs of waste disposal, excessive regulation, the low prices paid to small abattoirs for hides and skins, and the planning hurdles which face those seeking to establish new small abattoirs. They also identified areas where small changes in legislation could make a big difference as well as what else needs to be done to address these problems. 
Speaking at the conference earlier, Secretary of State for the Environment, Michael Gove MP recognised the importance of sustainably produced, high quality, British meat and highlighted the fact, “Livestock farming contributes to the mixed farming methods that provide a specific set of environmental benefits.” In answer to a question, he acknowledged the SFT’s role in bringing this issue to public attention and said that there are discussions about how animals could be killed closer to where they were raised, but gave no commitments.
Professor Tim Morris of the Animal Health and Welfare Board for England who chaired the session said, “We heard inspiring stories from new and existing small abattoir owners, but need more of them; as such, industry should highlight their benefits, particularly for animal welfare and rural resilience, in their response to the agriculture policy consultation, but also highlight barriers from regulatory complexities and conflicts to the review of farm regulation.”
SFT Policy Advisor, Bob Kennard said, “We don’t just need a new approach to agricultural policy we also need a new approach to the regulation of small abattoirs and we need action urgently, otherwise there will be no small abattoirs left in many regions. Three more red meat abattoirs have already closed this year and at least another three are considering closure. There is an emerging consensus that this is a priority issue, but it must be approached systemically, we can’t just change little things. This is our last chance, we’ve got to make it sustainable and long term.”
Interviews, quotes and photographs are available upon request.
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Notes for Editors
 The Future of UK Farming took place at Fir Farm, Lower Swell, near Stow-on-the-Wold in the North Cotswolds on 27-28th April, at the kind invitation of Sir Alan and Lady Parker. Further information about the conference and the programme is available on the SFT website here.
 The Sustainable Food Trust is a Bristol-based registered charity dedicated to accelerating the transition to more sustainable food systems producing health-enhancing food, instead of diet-related disease, globally. It was founded in 2011 by Patrick Holden, CBE.
 The report, A Good Life and a Good Death – Re-localising farm animal slaughter is available here
 In general, only smaller abattoirs are willing or able to slaughter animals for producer-retailers and return the carcasses and the offal from their own animal to them.
- John Mettrick, President of the National Federation of Meat and Food Traders provided an insight into the day to day issues facing small abattoirs and why they struggle with complex regulatory procedures originally drawn up with large slaughterhouses in mind. He explained why a risk-based approach would be more appropriate and said, “The small abattoir sector has been systematically persecuted almost to extinction.”
- Robin Tuke, farmer-retailer of ‘Ethical Scotch Beef’ at Hardiesmill in the Scottish Borders, whose ‘local abattoir’ is a two and a half hour journey from the farm, detailed the challenges he has faced in battling with eleven regulatory bodies and one quango over almost five years in order to build an on-farm abattoir, which is now complete and awaiting final approval. His advice to those contemplating a similar path included: ‘Know and really know your market, ‘plan for failure’, ‘hone your political skills’ and ‘be ready to exercise engineering ingenuity.’
- Natasha Jenkins, an environmental health officer and meat inspector, told the conference how Brexit provides an opportunity to explore new ways to establish on-farm slaughter facilities with a lower regulatory burden, where local abattoirs have closed. She said there is no reason, in principle, why, with an appropriate limit on the number of livestock units allowed to be slaughtered, the exemptions that currently only apply to small on-farm poultry and game abattoirs could not be extended to small on-farm red meat abattoirs. The would allow them to go without veterinary inspection of the animals before slaughter and continuous veterinary surgeon presence on-site during slaughter. She argued that with the introduction CCTV cameras and other modern technology this could actually lead to higher standards of welfare and hygiene, since the vets rarely watch the animals being handled and slaughtered.
- Paddy Hoare, of Perdix Partnership, a land agent retained by Fir Farm, outlined plans for an on-farm mobile slaughter facility which would travel to farms in order to slaughter red meat animals. This would involve a slaughter unit and a chiller unit. It could be operated by an existing abattoir or by a syndicate of cooperating farmers.
Photograph: Chloe Edwards
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