A Westminster inquiry has been urged to focus on the urgent need to future-proof small abattoirs, so that farmers have the local facilities to add value to their livestock enterprises.
The Abattoir Provision inquiry, run by the All Party Parliamentary Group for Animal Welfare, was told on Wednesday that a lack of abattoirs would limit livestock farmers’ ability to adapt to a new policy and economic environment post-Brexit.
There are only 56 small red meat abattoirs left in the UK, with a third having closed between 2007 and 2017 and further closures in 2018.
There were 30,000 abattoirs in the UK, across all sizes, in 1930, declining to just 249 in 2017.
In a wide-ranging evidence giving session, Christopher Price, chief executive at the Rare Breeds Survival Trust and former director of policy at the CLA, urged the enquiry ‘please do not take us backwards,’ by not focusing on the future.
“Ninety-five percent of the current system is going to change and it is that we need to look at,” said Mr Price.
“Abattoirs are part of a chain of response and so we need to start thinking about how they will cope.
“If we are going to see the scale of reform to Government policy that we have so far been lead to believe, then it is inconceivable that we will be producing commodity meat products competing with global players like Australia, the US and New Zealand.”
What is more likely, said Mr Price, is that farmers will need to add value to their meat, to serve niche markets such as demand for high welfare and environmentally friendly products.
They would also need to be able to add value to skins, horns, and other fifth quarter products.
But this would all depend on smaller farmers serving local markets, and in order to do so, having local abattoirs that could cater for their needs.
One-off capital grants were one such way that abattoirs could be made ‘match-fit’, suggested Mr Price, in a similar way to the grants that have been suggested in the Agricultural Bill to help farmers adapt to new market conditions and become more sustainable.
Bob Kennard of the Sustainable Food Trust, added that without small abattoirs, only those further along the chain, such as food manufacturers and retailers, were able to add value to carcases.
He said the importance of small abattoirs to rural communities meant Government should consider them a ’public good’.