PRESSURE FROM animal welfare groups could drive more small UK abattoirs to closure, the Sustainable Food Trust has warned.

The installation of CCTV in abattoirs is now compulsory in England, but is still under government consultation in Scotland. During this period of change, welfare protesters have been vocally highlighting those abattoirs that have yet to install CCTV on their premises, suggesting that potential animal welfare malpractice was going undetected as a result.

In response, the Sustainable Food Trust has urged animal welfare groups to recognise the very real and imminent problems facing many smaller abattoirs nationwide, and stressed that they deserve protection, rather than vilification.

SFT policy director Richard Young said: “Animal welfare groups are not acting in the best interests of animal welfare in piling yet more pressure on the few remaining small abattoirs that have still to install CCTV.

"I fully understand their concern about the factory scale of the slaughtering industry and the abuses that have occurred, and it is clear that the Government is very sensitive to their demands,” he said. “But they are actually helping to drive the last few small abattoirs out of business. These are small family-run businesses where animals are treated as individuals and do not have to endure long journeys.”

There are now only 56 small red meat abattoirs left in the UK, with a third having closed between 2007 and 2017 and a further seven closing this year. Small abattoirs slaughter very small numbers of animals but provide an essential service to producers of high welfare local meat, for which public demand is growing, said SFT.

The EU regulations used in the UK were drawn up with large export abattoirs in mind and many of those rules are unsuited or unnecessary in small abattoirs, where the owner is also often the principal slaughterman (or woman) as well as being responsible for butchering the meat, filling in paperwork and dealing with all other aspects of compliance.

SFT pointed out that large slaughterhouses have often received substantial amounts of public money in grants, and also benefit from economies of scale, but the animals they slaughter generally travel many hundreds of miles at the cost of their welfare and the environment.

Installing CCTV has proven more difficult for smaller abattoirs as they only slaughter one or two days a week with single shifts whereas large abattoirs slaughter every day, often with multiple shifts. Many smaller scale abattoirs were constructed years ago with solid stone walls, making it impossible to use WIFI transmission.

Many of the UK’s smallest abattoirs are losing money and a significant proportion of those that have not yet installed CCTV need government assistance to prevent them being forced to close.

As such, the SFT called for small abattoirs to be recognised as a ‘public good’ and for grants to be made available to help with the cost of installing CCTV and additional structural improvements.

Mr Young added: “We’d really welcome it if animal rights and welfare organisations would meet with us and discuss these issues openly. They have done some good in shining a light on the abuses that have occurred, but if they really care about animal welfare they will come to understand that the smallest abattoirs desperately need public support at the moment, not further criticism just for cheap headlines.”