FUTURE farming policy which incentivises farmers to breed native and rare breed livestock must be backed by capital investment in a local abattoir network which caters for private kills and non-standard animals.

That was one of the main messages which came out of a panel discussion on supporting local abattoirs and sustainable food production at the Scottish Smallholder Festival.

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Speakers were divided on whether support should be focused on rolling out more abattoirs to strengthen local food supply chains, or whether building capacity for private kill into existing premises, would be better.

Christopher Price, of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust, called on Scot Gov to provide short-term capital investment schemes to set up abattoirs which could process small numbers of non-standards animals, such as horned cattle.

“Moving forward, it is going to make economic and environmental sense to keep native and rare breeds of cattle and although we have an extensive abattoir network across the UK, the current infrastructure doesn’t work for these types of livestock. larger abattoirs often do not accept small numbers or carry out private kills where the customer gets their own product back. What is needed is a one-off investment in structural change,” he said.

Jane Prentice, of Downfield, in Cupar – where her and her husband built their own on-farm abattoir five years ago – agreed there was a need for more abattoirs in Scotland, especially for private kills, but warned the licensing process did not favour smaller premises.

“It is all licensing, regulation, procedures and paperwork,” she stressed. “Rules around food safety are important but make no distinction between small and larger abattoirs,” she said, adding that she was still burdened by set up costs.

Evan Katsoulis, from Food Standards Scotland, agreed that a one size fits all rulebook was making it more difficult for smaller premises, but pointed out that this was based on science and that differentiation in rules wasn’t likely anytime soon.

High Street butcher, Stuart Minick, reported that the appetite for locally-sourced meat from native breeds had proved a hit with customers, but disagreed that there was likely to be a rollout of new local abattoirs offering private kills, or capacity for non-standard animals in the near future.

“You are not going to get a network of abattoirs which are going to handle horned cattle and hairy pigs, but what we can do is use what we have better. I have seen what it was like for Jane setting up Downfield and it was an onerous task,” he warned.

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Ellie Burnage, of the Prince’s Countryside Fund, pointed out that there were fixed locations already dotted about the agricultural landscape which could be used for mobile abattoirs. “There is all this talk about the sector joining up more, so why can’t we use fixed points like auction marts, which are already used to taking livestock?

"There is the infrastructure in place to deal with waste, water and electricity, a lot of the things needed for mobile abattoirs to run. We need to start using logic and common sense to join up the dots,” she argued.