ThirTy-four organisations, reflecting a wide range of food, farming, consumer and nature conservation interests have written to Defra’s Secretary of State, Michael Gove, asking him to take urgent action to save the uK’s network of smaller abattoirs, which are closing at an alarming rate.
The letter follows a similar move in May, when the fuW wrote to Cabinet Secretary Lesley Griffiths asking her to be more proactive in protecting small and medium sized slaughterhouses in order to ensure farmers have the option to process livestock as close to the point of production as possible.
in his letter, fuW president Glyn roberts highlighted that over the past three decades, Wales had lost around ninety per cent of its slaughterhouses, and that successive uK and Welsh Governments had done relatively little to prevent this.
Mr roberts went on to state: “rather, increases in Government imposed regulations and charges have generally accelerated the loss [of Welsh slaughterhouses], leading not only to longer journeys for animals, but also a reduction in competition in the marketplace, less choice for producers and consumers and greater exposure to potential losses of Welsh levy.”
The group which has written to Michael Gove comprises organisations as diverse as the National Trust, rSPCA, Scottish Crofting federation, National federation of Women’s institutes and National Sheep Association. in the letter they point out that the existence of a network of smaller abattoirs enabling 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, represents a huge national asset.
The Government has indicated that it prefers farm animals to be slaughtered close to the place of production, yet the statistics show that the opposite is happening. A third of small abattoirs have closed in the past ten years and closures are continuing.
A further 6 (10 per cent) of small abattoirs have closed in the last 12 months, with the latest, Bakers of Nailsea, which has been serving
farmers and butchers in Somerset for 120 years, closing its door for the final time during the last month.
Chief executive of the Sustainable food Trust, Patrick holden 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.”
Chairman of National Craft Butchers and owner of a small abattoir in Derbyshire, John Mettrick 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.”
Sara Jane Staines of the royal Academy of Culinary Arts said: “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.”
Michael Gove has acknowledged the problem facing producer-retailers who lose their local abattoir. The signatories of the joint letter now want him to take urgent action to help the smaller abattoir sector, which is in danger of further contraction. This would include setting up a group to advise on how best to resolve the regulatory and other problems besetting smaller abattoirs in order to ensure their continued survival.
The Campaign for Local Abattoirs, which coordinated the joint letter, was established by the Sustainable food Trust and National Craft Butchers to highlight the current crisis in the supply of local meat.