AN EMERGENCY fund must be created to protect local abattoirs – and the family farms that depend upon them – from being destroyed in the rush to ever larger economies of scale.

That was the conclusion of a report published this week by Westminster's All-Party Parliamentary Group for Animal Welfare, which described small abattoirs as an 'essential link' in the farm-to-fork chain for local meat, and a crucial part of the UK’s overall agricultural infrastructure.

Campaigners for high-standard local food warmly welcomed the APPG's findings, and agreed that it was time for the government to commit cash to protect local abattoirs from closure, and put some money behind its own stated commitment to local, environmentally friendly food and farming.

Speaking from Keep Scotland The Brand, Ruth Watson said: "Local abattoirs are a crucial part of a community's infrastructure. They are important for animal welfare, make traditional small scale farming viable and keep a short supply food chain, important not just for the carbon footprint of food miles but for enabling meaningful farm to fork connections. The profitability of abattoirs should not just be measured at the front door but with an eye on the economic and social effects of the facility on the wider community."

CEO of the Sustainable Food Trust, Patrick Holden, said: “Our food and farming systems are facing multiple challenges with an Agriculture Bill that fails to safeguard UK standards and a future subsidy system that could see the demise of the family farm if action is not taken. More than ever we need a well distributed network of small abattoirs that offer ‘private kill’ services for farmers who wish to add value by marketing and selling their meat direct to consumers.

"The public has clearly shown demand for local, traceable food produced to a very high standard, while COVID-19 has taught us that a resilient local food supply is paramount for UK food security," said Mr Holden. "Small abattoirs are an essential part of the local food and farming infrastructure that makes this possible.”

The APPG report highlights that a third of small abattoirs have closed in the last ten years alone, with only 62 now left in the UK. The most recent closure was only two weeks ago and many more are reportedly 'on the brink'. In some areas, farmers now face long waiting lists and uneconomical distances to slaughter, putting their businesses at risk and raising concerns for animal welfare – and the government’s own commitment to shortened journey times will not be possible without a network of small abattoirs.

As such, the APPG said financial support was 'critically needed' to modernise the sector, and as a step to achieving this, recommended that abattoirs be recognised in the Agriculture Bill, which has its second reading in the House of Lords this week.

Other recommendations include a regulatory framework that is appropriate to the size of the business, a Competition Inquiry into the waste collection market, support for apprenticeships and training, a local food label to showcase provenance and support for mobile abattoirs.

Rare Breeds Survival Trust chief executive Christopher Price said: “We welcome this report. The livestock sector is going to change radically over the next few years. As subsidies are phased out, and people become increasingly interested in the quality, provenance and environmental impact of what they eat, farmers will inevitably be keeping fewer animals but a much more diverse range of breeds. We desperately need an abattoir network set up for this, able to process smaller numbers of 'non-standard' animals.”

Peter Greig of Pipers Farm added: “The time is now for a once in a lifetime chance to reshape the vision for our farmed landscape. The next generation of farmers must be much more than part of a globalised commodity supply chain. Local abattoirs offer the truly artisan craft of skilled slaughter for the rich diversity of entrepreneurs who sell meat as a valued, respected product. Natural capital and human capital are equally important in a truly resilient, sustainable supply chain, and local abattoirs are a vital link.”