If there are no smaller, local abattoirs, there is no local, traceable meat - it is as simple as that.
Over the past few years, over a third of the UK's small, local abattoirs have closed. The reasons for the continuing closures include; the disproportionately high burden of regulation imposed on small abattoirs, falling cattle numbers nationally and the currently very low and often negative profitability of the sector due to the increasing dominance of supermarkets who use large industrial abattoirs' scale to drive down costs and increase their profits.
The UK’s smallest abattoirs are currently facing an unprecedented crisis. There are now only around 49 small red meat abattoirs left in the UK and if closures continue at the current rate, none will be operating by 2030.
At a time when demand for sustainable, traceable, local food is on the rise, and issues of welfare and health are at the forefront of many consumers’ minds, the loss of more than a third of small abattoirs over the last decade alone is jeopardising the future of local food systems with integrity.
"More and more people are becoming aware of the food they put into their body and the impact on health. Meat should be part of a healthy, locally consumed diet."
Says our founder Peter Greig, when he was asked to speak on this matter at the Oxford Real Farming Conference.
For over 30 years we have been fighting for the survival of small scale abattoirs, they are a vital lifeline for the farming community.
"Animals should not only have a good life but also a compassionate death, which we believe is impossible unless there is a local abattoir. Without local abattoirs, we simply will not be able to support the transition to sustainable farming systems. The small abattoir renaissance is not a marginal issue, it is an absolutely essential component of this transition plan." Patrick Holden, of the CEO Sustainable Food Trust, rightly states.
The model of 'just in time goods' and long complex supply chains that are controlled by few, aimed at feeding the many, simply do not work. With increased concerns over how we feed the nation, it is clear that a change in tactics is urgently needed.
One of the key benefits of smaller scale local abattoirs is that they are able to pivot and adapt when issues arise. John Mettrick, chair of the Abattoir Sector Group, mentions, "If there are any national issues, like in the past with foot-and-mouth disease or BSE, small and local supply chains come into their own, they are more reactive and efficient to change quickly, that is because they know each stage and person in the process."
If we really want to see sustainable agriculture in the UK, with locally grown, traceable food, we need to support the infrastructure that enables this through investing in existing abattoirs so they can modernise, and enabling new abattoirs to be established.
However, there is perhaps light at the end of the tunnel. New funding was announced earlier this year (2023) by the farming minister, Mark Spencer. Small abattoirs will be able to apply for new funding later this year to improve productivity and enhance animal welfare.
These smaller facilities, with limited capacity and close proximity to farms, help reduce stress for animals due to their small numbers on-site. Additionally, they promote local food production and support rare or native breeds that are not accepted in large-scale abattoirs. Many of these breeds are usually slow-growing and raised in sustainable, low-intensity farming systems.
Which is why we believe the answer could lie with mobile abattoirs. Alongside other leading campaigners we are part of the Abattoir Sector Group (ASG) where we have been looking at ways to protect this vital part of farming and the rural community.
Mobile abattoirs could move between farms, providing the opportunity for rural farmers to have their livestock slaughtered and dressed on-site or to a local farm hub and area. What's more, we believe the addition of a mobile refrigeration unit could follow the mobile abattoir and deliver the carcasses to local butchers, central cutting plants or back to the farmer.
By shopping with Pipers Farm, you are helping us to sustain small scale abattoirs and helping our rural community thrive.