Yesterday we heard from speakers at the Oxford Real Farming Conference [1] about the crisis facing our local meat supply as small abattoirs continue to go out of business at an alarming rate. With four more abattoirs closing in the last 12 months, six more known to be on the brink of closing and few, if any, currently able to break even, farmers supplying local meat in some parts of the country are facing a very uncertain future.

Christopher Price, CEO of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust reiterated the crucial importance of small abattoirs for farmers keeping rare breeds and all farmers selling meat locally. He said, “Without a local abattoir we simply cannot get our animals slaughtered and without that we have no market for them. We have lots of willing farmers who want to keep native breeds and lots of willing consumers who want to buy or eat native breeds. But we need the infrastructure and services that allow us to kill and process them.”

Callum Edge, 7th generation owner of a meat business with a small abattoir in Wirral, echoed this point, calling small abattoirs the linchpins of local food systems. They also provide an important alternative route to market for larger farmers when prices fall.

Callum only slaughters native breeds, but says due to the closure of other abattoirs he’s having to slaughter animals from further afield than ever before. He also said, “It would be more economical for us to close our abattoir and send the animals we slaughter to a large abattoir but we want to stay open for the integrity and traceability of the meat we sell and for the benefit of local farmers and those with rare breeds.” He added it is also very obvious when animals travel further that they are not in such good condition when they arrive, as those coming from the local area.

One of the many pressures [2] now facing small abattoirs explained by John Mettrick, President of National Craft Butchers (NCB) which represents independent butchers, some of whom have their own small abattoir, relates to the collapse in the value of hides and skins. At the abattoir he jointly owns with his brother in Derbyshire he said, “We were getting £45 for cattle hides and £6.50 for sheep skins twenty years ago. We now get £1 for a hide if it’s in perfect condition and nothing for skins. It’s not difficult to do the maths on the 350 cattle and 3,000 lambs we slaughter each year.”

Research by the Campaign for Local Abattoirs [3] found that nine small abattoirs surveyed were providing a service to more than 1000 local farmers. John Mettrick said, “It will be a terrible loss to local communities in rural areas if the Government allows small abattoirs to go out of business for the sake of a very small amount of financial assistance. What we need most urgently is a clear indication from the Government that help is on the way. At the moment small abattoir owners cannot see any light at the end of the tunnel.”

Some hope for the future was offered by Glen Portman, Head of Operational Delivery for Wales and West at the Food Standards Agency (FSA), who is seeking to improve communication between regulators and businesses and produce a level playing field in the industry. The FSA is also running trials in a number of small abattoirs to evaluate the impact of derogations already in existing regulations that could be used to make things easier for small abattoirs.

However, it was agreed that the tipping point for many small abattoirs, which have been struggling to survive financially for some years, has come with recent requirements to make additional capital investment to install CCTV and comply with other new regulations. Commenting on this, Callum Edge said, “We support having CCTV. We hoped this would allow a reduced level of inspection, but that doesn’t seem to have happened.”

We also heard that the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Animal Welfare will be releasing a report [4] on the problems facing small abattoirs this spring. The recommendations cannot be disclosed until then, but the committee commented that it was impressed by the large number of submissions it received from farmers who depend on a local abattoir.

Richard Young, policy director of the Sustainable Food Trust, who chaired the session, said the Campaign for Local Abattoirs group will be seeking a meeting with the Secretary for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs as a matter of urgency.

 

ENDS

 

For more information contact:

Megan Perry, Communications Manager

07761804341

megan@sustainablefoodtrust.org

 

Notes for Editors

[1] The Oxford Real Farming Conference took place on the 8th and 9th of January 2020 in Oxford Town Hall. The Sustainable Food Trust organised a session called, ‘Saving Small Abattoirs,’ chaired by SFT policy director Richard Young and featuring CEO of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust Christopher Price, President of National Craft Butchers John Mettrick, small abattoir owner Callum Edge and Food Standards Agency Head of Operational Delivery for Wales and West Glen Portman. A film recording of this session will be available on the SFT website soon.

[2] Small abattoirs face several issues, including waste disposal costs, infrastructure costs, bureaucracy and regulations. For more information on these problems read our briefing paper here: https://sustainablefoodtrust.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/Abattoir-briefing.pdf

[3] The Sustainable Food Trust set up the Campaign for Local Abattoirs (CFLA) with National Craft Butchers (NCB), other groups and individuals concerned by the developing crisis in the smaller abattoir sector. The campaign was launched in February 2018 with the report ‘A Good Life and a Good Death – Relocalising farm animal slaughter’. For more info: https://sustainablefoodtrust.org/key-issues/campaign-for-local-abattoirs/

[4] If you would like to be notified when the report is published please email admin@apgaw.org

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