Environment Secretary Michael Gove is being urged to take decisive action to halt the demise of the nation’s smaller abattoirs which the meat industry warn are shutting at an “alarming” rate.
A third of small abattoirs, which are largely independent, family-run businesses that provide vital jobs in rural communities, have shut in the past decade, including six in the last 12 months, Mr Gove is told in a letter seen by The Yorkshire Post.
Smaller abattoirs still have a place, industry experts insist, saying they help the environment by cutting food miles and offer a supply of high-quality meat for local restaurants at a time when the public places extra value in where their food comes from.
Mass closures of smaller abattoirs are blamed on an overly prescriptive approach to EU regulation by UK government which the industry says brings burdensome extra costs, while an acute shortage of new blood coming through to run family enterprises is also a key factor in their downfall.
The increasing concerns have been starkly set out in a letter to Mr Gove that has been co-ordinated by The Campaign for Local Abattoirs on behalf of 34 groups representing food, farming, consumer and nature conservation interests. Signatories included the RSPB, National Trust, RSPCA, the WI and the National Sheep Association.
They argue that a network of smaller abattoirs enables thousands of family farmers to supply meat and other livestock products to a growing number of customers, either directly or via retail and catering outlets, and together they represent “a huge national asset”.
Patrick Holden, chief executive of the Sustainable Food Trust, said: “The sale of locally-produced meat helps to keep many family farmers in business and has huge benefits for consumers and the environment.
“For the first time in my farming lifetime, Defra is genuinely striving to develop a more sustainable food system with additional focus on animal welfare. But that could come unstuck if we lose more local abattoirs.
“Without local slaughtering there will be no traceable local meat, it’s as simple as that.”
John Mettrick, chairman of National Craft Butchers (NCB) and owner of a small abattoir in Derbyshire, said: “We have hit a perfect storm of problems: increased costs, rock bottom prices for hides and skins, some gold-plated regulations, and excessive paperwork, much of it involving unnecessary duplication.”
And Sara Jane Staines, chief executive of the Royal Academy of Culinary Arts, added: “We need to be able to fly the flag for less but better-quality meat with a known provenance. We can’t do that without accessible abattoirs across the country.”
The signatories of the joint letter call on Mr Gove to set up a new group to advise on how best the regulatory and other problems that beset smaller abattoirs can be effectively resolved.
A Government spokesperson said: “We know consolidation in the retail sector, drive for greater efficiency and higher meat hygiene standards means the majority of livestock slaughtered in the UK today takes place in larger abattoirs.
“While this trend is market-led, we fully recognise the key role small abattoirs can and do play in meeting the needs of local producers and local economies by providing jobs.
“That’s why Lord Gardiner recently met representatives from the Sustainable Food Trust and we are working with them and the Food Standards Agency to explore the matter further - while maintaining high animal welfare and food hygiene standards.”