A‘thriving network’ of local abattoirs is to be developed across the UK, in order to address geographical imbalances and to support local food models, the UK Government has promised.

This was one of the key messages to arise from the environment, food and rural affairs committee final inquiry into ‘Moving animals across borders,’ which heard evidence from Rt Hon the Lord Benyon, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Defra.

The SNP’s MP for Angus, Dave Doogan, asked Lord Benyon what disruption a ban on live exports would have on UK farm businesses, to which he replied saying ‘minimal’: “Less than 0.03% of sheep reared in the UK are sent abroad for slaughter,” said Lord Benyon. “Now we have legislation that will ban this, but we need to make sure we have capacity in our existing slaughterhouses to feed this market.”

He was probed on the issue of distance to slaughter and what action was being taken to ensure the rollout of local abattoirs, to which he responded: “We really want to make sure we are maintaining as broad and as wide a geographical range and specialist range of abattoirs and supporting new initiatives e.g. mobile abattoirs. We will start seeing the support for farmer groups who may want to operate in certain areas possibly with a pop up or mobile slaughterhouse or operating with an existing one to make sure we are able to support the industry in this way.”

Efra chair Neil Parish added that pressure had to be put on major retailers for only supporting a handful of UK abattoirs: “Some of the big major retailers just use one or two slaughterhouses in the whole country. Retailers need to be more flexible,” he insisted. “They do have to be able to market and buy more locally, just because it fits their model to have it very large, it then means those animals have got to be transported all across the country.”

One of the controversial proposals within the Defra consultation on welfare in transit was the suggestion of imposing temperature limits between 5 and 30 degrees C for transit.

“In February this year, under the proposal, you wouldn’t have been able to get any livestock to slaughter because of the low temperatures,” said Mr Parish. “Some of these things were just totally impractical."

Lord Benyon promised when proposals are published later in the summer they would be 'in the realms of practicality'. He replied: “We don’t want to penalise farming in any way that we don’t need to. We want to make sure we are supporting farmers at this difficult time and getting their product to market is absolutely vital, but the customer is going to buy that meat at the end of the day and is demanding welfare standards and we are in the middle and we want to sail a path which satisfies both the needs of those producing meat but also those who are going to eat it.”