Scotland's niche meat producers work in an 'abattoir desert'

TANGIBLE political support is now needed to help create small local abattoirs that can underpin niche meat markets across Scotland's more remote regions.

Reacting to this week's withheld permission on Skye's micro-abattoir and the abrupt closure of Orkney's abattoir two weeks ago, the Scottish Crofting Federation's chairman Russell Smith declared that local abattoir provision had been 'shamefully neglected' amidst Scotland's otherwise successful drive to enhance its food and drink industry.

"We all agree that the niche, high provenance meat market is the way forward for Scotland, whatever happens regarding Europe, yet high quality meat producers' efforts are stymied by having such a scarcity of abattoirs and therefore poor traceability," said Mr Smith.

"Animal welfare is compromised by vast transport distances and there is the added cost of travelling to and from the abattoir which can make direct selling unprofitable for small producers. Look at a map showing red meat slaughtering facilities in the UK – it is not great elsewhere, but Scotland is shamefully neglected – it is an abattoir desert."

Mr Smith continued: "The Skye abattoir is particularly frustrating, after seven years of campaigning and a huge input of voluntary time and effort, the community group now have fully costed, detailed plans for a micro-abattoir, and a site with planning permission.

"Their project is at a shovel-ready stage but they are held back by the Scottish Government’s interpretation of State Aid Rules which places a limit on public sector funding. We believe that this restriction should not apply. A case could be argued for there being market failure and that the abattoir will operate as a not-for-profit service to the crofting and farming community in a fragile rural area."

Mr Smith stressed that the objectives of ensuring the highest standards of animal welfare and traceability were in line with ScotGov food policy, and said that the SCF had already made this argument: "Other European countries use micro-abattoirs to great socioeconomic effect," he added.

Weighing in on the Orkney abattoir case, Mr Smith offered: "It is clearly unacceptable to transport animals for slaughter to the nearest facility in Dingwall, 150 miles away across the roughest stretch of UK coastal waters. Some of the islands’ unique, high-provenance products, such as North Ronaldsay mutton, could simply disappear.

“If Scotland’s food and drink industry is to thrive post-Brexit, the producers serving local, niche and high-quality markets must be enabled to do so, and, in the crofting areas, that means having access to local abattoir services."

Orkney MSP Liam McArthur this week welcomed the 'constructive engagement' there has been with Rural Economy Cabinet Secretary Fergus Ewing about the future of the Kirkwall abattoir – but warned that the challenges facing islands livestock producers remained significant.

“I am pleased that we were able to secure government assistance in putting in technical support that may help address some of the Council’s immediate concerns," said Mr McArthur. "Hopefully this could enable the abattoir to reopen, at least in the short term while longer term options are explained.

“That said, it is increasingly clear that the challenges in identifying a viable, long term solution remain significant. There is, however, a welcome commitment amongst all involved in these discussions to continue the urgent work needed over the coming weeks. I will certainly be lending my support to those efforts.”