FOR years the butcher’s shop has been a staple of the UK high street and village, standing alongside the post office and pub as a vital part of community life.
However in recent years, with the rise of supermarkets and chain stores, the butcher’s has been disappearing from towns at an alarming rate.
Today, a campaign has been launched in Yorkshire to persuade the public to back their butchers, and help support UK farmers, abattoirs and food companies in the process.
The Meat Crusade, organised by Yorkshire farmer and wholesale butcher John Penny & Sons, aims to put quality butchers’ meat back on the UK dinner tables by encouraging people to back their local butchers.
The campaign aims to attract high profile support from chefs and food writers as well as help butchers to compete with the larger retail outlets.
It also aims to highlight the ways butchers trade, suggesting an old-fashioned delivery services or initiating an out-of-hours pick-up service at the local pub.
The decline of the high street butcher has been swift accelerated by challenging economic conditions, as well as the rise of chain stores and supermarkets.
According to the Meat Trades Journal, there are now just 6,553 high street butchers, compared to more than 22,000 in the mid-1990s. Another estimate puts the number of closures running at about 27 a week.
John Penny, an eighth generation farmer and butcher based at Rawdon, Leeds, said: “We were once a nation of shopkeepers with generations of butchers, bakers and greengrocers who knew every customer by name.
“The way we shop for meat has been radically altered by the domination of faceless but convenient one stop shops that encourage the use of mass food production techniques to create high volumes of produce.
“However, these techniques often reduce an animal’s quality of life, which in turn, affects the taste and quality of the meat we buy, it’s time that shoppers go back to their local butcher.”
The Meat Crusade has begun after the Yorkshire Post announced its own Buy Yorkshire campaign, attempting to encourage companies to chose regional firms when creating their supply chains and to highlight existing buy local campaigns.
One butcher to lend his backing to the Meat Crusade is Graham Starkey of the C&G Starkey butcher’s shop in Sherburn-in-Elmet, North Yorkshire.
Mr Starkey opened the shop in 1981 alongside his father, who still works there at the age of 81, as well as his son aged 28.
He said: “I think at the moment many people are just using the butcher for special occasions, we want them to use it 52 weeks of the year. I know that all the meat we sell comes from animals which have been kept at a high standard of welfare and treated with respect – which makes a huge difference to the taste.”
Mr Penny said that if more support is not given to high street butchers then the consequences would be dire for the sector.
“The high street butcher has a great deal of competition in the 21st century, our campaign aims to level that playing field. If we don’t shop at the local butchers they will go, and that’s a huge loss to our high street.
“They’re likely to go the way of the local pub. Once it’s gone, you can’t recover that loss. It’s time to halt that decline and celebrate what butchers do best, sell quality meat.”
He added that butchers needed to change with the times and keep pace with the market.