New report released today | Monday 26th February
A new report from the Sustainable Food Trust finds that the UK’s network of small local abattoirs is near collapse. Without urgent action there will be a huge loss of consumer choice because the marketing of locally-produced, traceable meat will no longer be possible in many parts of the country.
This is due to the ongoing closure of many smaller local abattoirs and the high financial, environmental and animal welfare cost of transporting relatively small numbers of farm animals further to get them slaughtered and then transporting the meat back to the farm of origin.
Over the last decade more than a third of small abattoirs have closed. In England there are just 63 small abattoirs left, down from 96 in 2007. Two further small abattoirs have already closed this year in Scotland. In total the number of all red meat abattoirs has fallen to 249 from 320 in 2007 and almost 1,900 in 1970. Many of these, however, are unsuitable for local meat marketing.
The reasons for the continuing closures include the disproportionately high burden of regulation imposed on small abattoirs, falling cattle numbers nationally and the currently very low and often negative profitability of the sector due to the increasing dominance of supermarkets.
The SFT is calling on the Government to:
- Make a clear statement of support that it recognises the vital importance of smaller abattoirs, and make this a matter of practical policy across all government departments and agencies;
- Work constructively with interested parties to make possible the use of mobile and small static red meat abattoirs for on-farm slaughtering;
- Set up a task force with joint government, industry and consumer representation, to establish why small abattoirs are closing and propose innovative and practical solutions to ensure their survival.
The ideal for many producer-retailers would be a mobile abattoir which comes to their farm periodically. A number of countries within the EU and also Canada, New Zealand and America currently have mobile abattoirs successfully operating within tight regulatory regimes that enhance animal welfare and bio-security. The SFT believes mobile abattoirs would have advantages for animal welfare and could become viable in the UK, with the use of CCTV cameras and constructive government and regulatory engagement.
Richard Young, policy director of the SFT and a co-author of the report said, “Local abattoirs play a vital role in all rural communities where farm animals are kept. When they close, both animals and meat have to be transported much further. This is bad for animal welfare and bad for the environment. It also threatens the ongoing renaissance of local food cultures.
On my own organic farm, I have had to change abattoirs nine times over the last 30 years in order to keep our farm shop supplied with the meat from our own animals, as seven of those closest to me have closed and two became unsuitable for other reasons. I now have to take our animals almost 40 miles to get them slaughtered and it costs a great deal to get the carcases delivered back to our shop.”
Phil Stocker, chief executive of the National Sheep Association said, ‘This timely report draws attention to the rapidly changing and complex crisis facing smaller local abattoirs and those who depend on them. I truly hope that government and industry will work together to offer a long-term future for our diminishing network of local abattoirs before it is too late.”
Peter Stevenson, chief policy advisor, Compassion in World Farming said, “For several decades we have witnessed the gradual erosion of the UK’s network of small local abattoirs. Farmers who want to minimise travelling times have been unable to prevent their animals being taken on longer journeys to distant slaughterhouses as local facilities disappear. This is clearly not in the best interest of the animals’ welfare. Government must act to help reinstate local abattoirs. Eating food produced locally and supporting local farmers and businesses are rightly viewed as important aspects of sustainability.”
Small local abattoirs also provide a wide range of other benefits for local communities. The current situation also provides poor value for taxpayers. The UK has invested heavily, through a range of grant schemes, in encouraging farmers to diversify, and on-farm retailing of meat has been one of the major options taken up. However, despite the considerable investment of public money that has been made, the government has taken little effective action to prevent the closure of local abattoirs, on which the local marketing of meat depends.