The reports this week of potential problems in the industrial abattoir sector caused by the shortage of CO2 have evoked some strong memories.
When I was a small boy I often experienced taking livestock to our local abattoir which was behind the butcher's shop in our village in Kent. Terry was the slaughterman and his skills had been handed down to him through generations of his family.
Along with travelling to local livestock markets, this was a very formative part of my introduction to farming and the local sustainable food chain that existed at that time.
After leaving school I worked on a pig farm in Denmark for 3 months and this was my first experience of an abattoir on an industrial scale. I was quite used to feeding hundreds of pigs every day on the farm, but I was shocked by the smell of the many hundreds of pigs waiting to be slaughtered at the abbattoir. Whereas Terry had always killed each pig individually, these pigs were being stunned in groups using CO2.
The smell in the lairage at that abbattoir is one of life’s experiences that has stayed with me. All my working life I have worked with pigs and I believe that smell was caused by stress and fear.
The development of CO2 stunning at slaughter is one of the steps that has been taken to industrialise the food chain. It has certainly not been done in the interests of animal welfare.
Low-throughout abattoirs are a good example of artisan skills used as a vital link in the chain of local food supply. These abattoirs use the traditional practice of a highly skilled slaughterman killing each animal individually, with electrical stunning.
In championing these traditional supply chains we believe it delivers proper respect for livestock, the landscapes they live in and the smaller businesses within those rural communities which should be the bedrock of food produced with real integrity.
The relentless industrialisation of the food chain of meat production, constantly trying to squeeze the margins of both farmer and processor is wrong. The prospect of large numbers of animals backing up in the supply chain or having to travel hundreds of miles to alternative abattoirs because of shortages of CO2, is a stark reminder of the madness of doing away with the timeless common sense of truly sustainable, local food chains.
Industrial meat is not as cheap as it seems and the bullying power of the giant global corporates to try to convince consumers they are the answer to global food supply is as wrong as gassing pigs with CO2, and at the same time causing the demise of many smaller abattoirs through ill-conceived legislation.