WITHOUT URGENT action, the UK’s network of small local abattoirs will collapse, ending the marketing of locally-produced, traceable meat in many parts of the country.

A new report from the Sustainable Food Trust has highlighted the ongoing closure of many smaller local abattoirs and the high financial, environmental and animal welfare costs of this loss.

Over the last decade, more than a third of small abattoirs have closed. In England there are just 63 small abattoirs left, down from 96 in 2007. Two further small abattoirs have already closed this year in Scotland. In total the number of all red meat abattoirs has fallen to 249 from 320 in 2007 and from almost 1900 in 1970.

SFT identified the reasons for the continuing closures as the disproportionately high burden of regulation imposed on small abattoirs, falling cattle numbers nationally and the currently very low and often negative profitability of the sector due to the increasing dominance of supermarkets.

The Trust this week called on the Government to make a clear statement of support that recognises the vital importance of smaller abattoirs, and make them a matter of practical policy across all government departments and agencies.

It also asked that the authorities work constructively with interested parties to make possible the use of mobile and small static red meat abattoirs for on-farm slaughtering.

SFT said that the ideal for many producer-retailers would be a mobile abattoir which comes to their farm periodically, as already happens in a number of countries within the EU and also Canada, New Zealand and America, thin tight regulatory regimes that enhance animal welfare and bio-security.

Policy director Richard Young, co-author of the report, said: “Local abattoirs play a vital role in all rural communities where farm animals are kept. When they close, both animals and meat have to be transported much further. This is bad for animal welfare and bad for the environment. It also threatens the ongoing renaissance of local food cultures.

"On my own organic farm, I have had to change abattoirs nine times over the last 30 years in order to keep our farm shop supplied with the meat from our own animals, as seven of those closest to me have closed and two became unsuitable for other reasons," he said.

"I now have to take our animals almost 40 miles to get them slaughtered and it costs a great deal to get the carcases delivered back to our shop.”

National Sheep Association chairman Phil Stocker said: "This timely report draws attention to the rapidly changing and complex crisis facing smaller local abattoirs and those who depend on them. I truly hope that government and industry will work together to offer a long-term future for our diminishing network of local abattoirs before it is too late."

Compassion in World Farming policy advisor Peter Stevenson said: “Government must act to help reinstate local abattoirs. Eating food produced locally and supporting local farmers and businesses are rightly viewed as important aspects of sustainability.”