The continuing decline is bad for animal welfare and runs against the growing 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.”