The campaign to boost local abattoirs strikes a symbolic chord at the heart of what we want our food supply chain to be and, therefore, the reality of what it is.
Much like the dairy sector, which once thrived on the back of small dairies and, in some areas, producer processors taking milk straight from the dairy to doorstep, so too have local abattoirs diminished in number.
In the 1950s there were more than 5,000 abattoirs in the UK. By the 1980s that was down to about 1,000 and there has been a drastic decline since. Their plight is emblematic of a food supply chain which has shifted from small and local, to large scale and led by the large multiples. As consumer buying habits have shifted, so too has the network which supplies it.
Therefore, while there is often a sentimental yearning for a return to a more local framework of abattoirs and food procurement, it may ultimately be consumer demand which shapes this part of the supply chain more than anything.
But there is reason for hope.
The coronavirus pandemic has undoubtedly reignited people’s love and appreciation of food, with locally produced meat bought not from the supermarket, but from the local butcher or farm shop seeing a surge in demand.
This reawakening has been a positive outcome for the red meat industry at all levels, with the focus on provenance serving to highlight the quality of produce on offer from UK farms to consumers not usually engaged with such standards.
A more robust and adaptable network of local abattoirs could no doubt serve that demand in the coming years, but, as rightly pointed out, it needs common sense to prevail among Ministers regarding the regulations placed on these units.
Now could be a great time to reshape elements of the food supply chain, but there must be a political will to slash some of the red tape which has badly impacted the local abattoir network over the past 25 years.