Progress for local abattoirs at ORFC

  • 17.01.2024
  • article
  • Abattoirs
  • Events
  • Local Businesses
  • Local Food
  • Megan Perry

From grazing livestock to local abattoirs, our sessions at this year’s Oxford Real Farming Conference were a chance to share some of our latest work and to connect with others who are pushing for positive change. In this article, our Head of Policy and Campaigns, Megan Perry, reports back from the discussion on the future of local abattoirs.

Our session at the Oxford Real Farming Conference on ‘Local Abattoirs: Funding, Future Models and Next Steps’ could not have come at a better time, hot on the heels of the launch of the Smaller Abattoir Fund. The progress and positive tone of the session was in contrast to the first session we held at ORFC about abattoirs in 2018, when the late Richard Young launched our report ‘A Good Life and A Good Death: Relocalising Farm Animal Slaughter’. The shocking reality that our small abattoir network was on the brink of collapse kickstarted a campaign which saw widespread support and has resulted in small abattoirs being treated as a priority issue by Defra.

The session was expertly chaired by Baroness Sue Hayman, previously Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Sue is also President for the Rare Breeds Survival Trust, one of the members of the Abattoir Sector Group, and understands the critical importance of small abattoirs for native breed farmers.

John Powell, Defra

John Powell, Head of Agricultural Teams at Defra, outlined the new Smaller Abattoir Fund which was launched last month and is open to eligible abattoirs to apply for grants to improve animal health and welfare, increase productivity, add value to products or contribute to new technology and innovation. He urged eligible abattoirs to apply for the fund, saying the Government had done its bit and it now lies with industry to take up the money. Demonstrating the fund works and is successful will make a stronger case for making more money available to the sector in future.

John Powell also shared that Government have begun pulling together a case for adoption of the ‘5% rule’ and that Ministers are keen to see this happen quickly. The rule is a flexibility that exists in EU legislation and enables smaller abattoirs to slaughter up to 5% of the total national throughput without triggering full veterinarian presence and charges. Failure to adopt this rule has stifled productivity and growth in the sector as some of the smallest abattoirs opt to keep their throughput under the 1,000 livestock units per annum allowance in order to keep inspection and charges to a minimum. This is an important step in the right direction and is something the Abattoir Sector Group has been lobbying for.

He emphasised that Defra want to support the sector, saying, “You bring the problems to us and together we’ll look at what’s possible…We really are supportive of small abattoirs.”

Stephen Hill, Perrys of Eccleshall

Stephen Hill, owner of small abattoir and butchery Perrys of Eccleshall, welcomed the new fund: “The funding has come at the right time for me, I want to move the business forwards.”

He called on existing small abattoirs to think about their future and emphasised the need for a succession plan. He said: “If you are a small abattoir owner and you are thinking of closing the abattoir then mothball it, don’t close it. We can’t afford to lose any more small abattoirs. Someone might come along who would want to take it over.”

Anna Blumfield, Deersbrook Farm

Anna Blumfield from Deersbrook Farm rears pasture-fed Sussex cattle and runs a farm shop and butchery. She explained that their local abattoir is “the key cog in our farming system – without them doing the processing, I couldn’t get products to consumers.” She outlined the many benefits of small local abattoirs, including their knowledge of good animal husbandry, personalised service and better end product, as well as providing jobs to the local community. She emphasised that “good communication and mutual trust” are essential as this allows them to plan their business for the whole year: “Having knowledge that our abattoir is thriving gives us the confidence to plan for the future.”

Phil Scott, Lake District Farmers

Also speaking was Phil Scott from Lake District Farmers, a wholesale meat supplier that provides a sustainable route to market for fell farmers in Cumbria. They supply customers that include some of the world’s biggest companies that are wanting to serve meat with a good story and environmental credentials. Phil highlighted the challenges in the region – despite there being 5,242, mainly livestock-based, farm holdings in Cumbria with a 12,500 strong workforce, there are only two abattoirs offering private kill, both in the south of the county.

Following the closure of Black Brow abattoir in Wigton last year, farmers are now travelling from as far as Scotland down to Airey’s abattoir near Grange-over-Sands to take their animals to slaughter, but this is having a knock-on effect for local customers, with a local butcher’s shop unable to get their animals slaughtered in the run up to Christmas. He emphasised the need for more skilled staff, both slaughterhouse workers and butchers, to ensure the sector thrives, and called for more apprenticeships and better advertising of the sector as being a good career path for young people.

Andy Gray, McKelly

The final speaker was Andy Gray, farmer and CEO of meat supplier, McKelly. He talked about Fir Farm’s Moveable Slaughter Unit, owned by Lady Parker, which he had been trialling on his farm in Devon. Andy explained how the unit is the first of its kind in the UK and broke the mould with the Food Standards Agency, with whom they worked to ensure the unit meets regulatory requirements.

Andy said: “It has very much been a listening and collaborative experience, changing the environment in which we are working.” It has inspired others to develop a second iteration of the unit and there are now potential plans for a small unit to be built on the Isles of Scilly, which currently lacks an abattoir.


For comments, questions or more information about the Campaign for Local Abattoirs or the work of the Abattoir Sector Group, please contact

Graphic separator Graphic separator