SMALL ABATTOIRS are continuing to close at an alarming rate, leading to a crisis in local meat supply across the UK.

UK government figures at the start of 2019 reported a total of 56 small red meat abattoirs left in the UK, which had dropped from 249 in 2017.

At the Oxford Real Farming Conference, delegates heard that four more UK abattoirs had closed in 2019 with six more known to be on the brink, during an emotive 'saving small abattoirs' session organised by the Sustainable Food Trust.

This rapid decline has sparked concerns that animals are being transported further; local meat supply chains are being threatened; a monopoly on costs for both the slaughter and sale of by-products is being created and vital skills are being lost.

Farmers supplying local meat in some parts of the country are facing a very uncertain future, explained the CEO of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust, Christopher Price: “Without a local abattoir we simply cannot get our animals slaughtered and without that we have no market for them." he said. "We have lots of willing farmers who want to keep native breeds and lots of willing consumers who want to buy or eat native breeds. But we need the infrastructure and services that allow us to kill and process them.”

Seventh generation farmer Callum Edge owns a meat business and small abattoir in Wirral which is under economic pressure, but has managed to stay open: “It would be more economical for us to close our abattoir and send the animals we slaughter to a large abattoir but we want to stay open for the integrity and traceability of the meat we sell and for the benefit of local farmers and those with rare breeds,” he stressed.

He added that he found that when animals travel further that they are not in such good condition when they arrive, as opposed to those coming from the local area.

President of National Craft Butchers, John Mettrick, explained that the collapse in the value of hides and skins has played a part in small abattoir decline. At the abattoir he jointly owns with his brother in Derbyshire, he said: “We were getting £45 for cattle hides and £6.50 for sheep skins twenty years ago. We now get £1 for a hide if it’s in perfect condition and nothing for skins. It’s not difficult to do the maths on the 350 cattle and 3000 lambs we slaughter each year.”

It was agreed that the tipping point for many small abattoirs, which have been struggling to survive financially, has come with recent requirements to make additional capital investment to install CCTV and comply with other new regulations. Commenting on this, Mr Edge said: “We support having CCTV. We hoped this would allow a reduced level of inspection, but that doesn’t seem to have happened.”

Delegates were informed that the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Animal Welfare will be releasing a report on the problems facing small abattoirs this spring.

Policy director of the Sustainable Food Trust, Richard Young, said the Campaign for Local Abattoirs group will be seeking a meeting with the Secretary for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs as a 'matter of urgency'.