New funding for small abattoirs has been described as “integral to the future of local, sustainable and high welfare farming”.
The funding was announced by the farming minister Mark Spencer at the NFU’s annual conference in Birmingham last week, after a successful campaign to raise awareness of the increasing number of closures of abattoirs that handle small numbers of animals.
Such facilities are known to reduce stress levels for animals, where there are only small numbers on site at any time, and are more likely to support local food production as they are more dispersed and closer to farms. As a result of their small capacity, they are also able to process rare or heritage breeds, which are typically raised in smaller numbers and are not suited to large-scale abattoirs handling high numbers at speed. These breeds in turn are often slow-growing and reared in low intensive, sustainable farming systems.
“We are grateful to the ministers and government officials who have shown a willingness to listen to those from the industry and understand the important role that abattoirs play. Funding will be vital to help the small abattoirs modernise and thrive,” said Megan Perry, head of policy and campaigns at the Sustainable Food Trust (SFT), which co-founded the campaign for small and local abattoirs.
“Their services are the cornerstone of sustainable, local meat supply chains,” she said.
According to the SFT, there has been a “catastrophic” decline in small abattoir numbers in recent years, with most recent estimates showing only 49 small red meat abattoirs remain in England, Wales and Scotland. If closures continued at the current rate, none would be operating by 2030.
“A network of smaller abattoirs distributed around the country is crucial to supporting the rural economy, enabling farmers to sell their own meat in farm shops and maintaining good animal health and welfare through reduced journey times to slaughter,” a statement for the National Craft Butchers said.
Farming minister Mark Spencer said: “If farming is to flourish then we need to get the fundamentals right – abattoirs are key to the food supply chain and there is clearly a need to support smaller providers in this area.”
But farmers have pointed out there is a notable lack of detail that means they are unable to plan. Yorkshire-based pig farmer Peter Mawson said the announcement was “worthless” without the detail, and pointed out that abattoir and butchery staffing is one of the biggest challenges.
“[The] rough costs to open a new small abattoir are £4 million,” he said. “We need a new network of these and trained staff. It won’t happen.”
Mawson said there are only 49 small red meat abattoirs left, and there is also low availability of craft butchers to go alongside. “Government thinks ‘tech’ solves every problem. Really, we need a multi-millionaire who wants to revitalise meat in the UK,” he said.
A spokesperson for Defra told Wicked Leeks they were unable to confirm the amount of funding that will be made available for small abattoirs or details about how the money will be spent.
“New funding for smaller abattoirs is currently being designed to offer capital investment support that promotes enhanced welfare, productivity, added value and innovation. More detailed information will be announced in due course,” the spokesperson said.
This article was updated on 03 March to reflect further reaction and comments on the new funding announcement.