The news comes from a new study by red meat promotional agency Hybu Cig Cymru into an industry contributing £461m to the national economy each year.
Declining livestock numbers, increasing regulation and limited plant infrastructure – especially chillers – are among listed threats to the sector’s long-term viability.
A shortage of skilled workers and the unwillingness of youngsters to take on family abattoirs are also highlighted.
“The Welsh red meat slaughtering industry has for many years faced a continuing underlying problem of fluctuating, and at times, low profitability,” says the report.
“The sector as a whole suffers from under-investment, especially among small and medium enterprises, at a time when investment requirements are growing.”
Since 1990, Wales had lost 42 abattoirs, leaving just 22, and these were dominated by a handful of major players accounting for almost 90 per cent of industry throughput.
Despite the shrinkage, the report says the sector makes a ’dynamic’ contribution to the Welsh economy. In 2014 it processed 120,400 cattle, worth £186m, 3.4m sheep, worth £271m and 32,900 pigs, worth £4m.
Of concern was that many smaller slaughterhouses had limited chiller facilities, affecting their ability to process meat and meet market requirements.
Another factor was the lack of by-product disposal units in Wales. As a result, all by-products had to be transported out of Wales, costing £75-£120 per tonne, as well as £200 collection fees per pick-up.
Cattle hides and sheep skins, traditionally exported to China for tanning, were worth £15-£40 per hide and £1-£2.50 per skin for abattoirs -- but tanning was pollution-heavy and, in the wake of new Chinese green initiatives, demand for hides and skins was falling and cutting abattoir profits.
Changing consumer demands was also having an impact on smaller abattoirs, with different product cuts and packaging requiring costly changes in abattoirs to upgrade machinery, amend processes and train workers.
Falling livestock number meant there was significant spare capacity in the sector – currently estimated at 17 per cent for cattle (24,000 head), 32 per cent for pigs (11,000 head) and 41-72 per cent for sheep.
In headage terms, spare capacity for sheep is 1.4m-2.4m per year, reflecting the seasonality of lamb supply.
“Taken overall these factors raise concerns over the long-term viability of Welsh abattoirs without future investment in the sector,” concludes the report.