3 March 2000

Save small abattoir

bid launched

By Isabel Davies

and Robert Davies

OVER 130 organisations have joined forces to send an open letter to farm minister Nick Brown calling for immediate measures to help save small and medium sized abattoirs.

The group is concerned by the lack of immediate assistance to low volume plants. A task force to investigate inspection charges has been proposed but is not expected to report back for some months.

The letter urges the minister to take action in four urgent areas.

It asks for a temporary freeze on charges, a change to a headage system of charging and a derogation to allow smaller plants to have lower veterinary attendance.

It also calls for government to offer an assurance to plant owners that the planned increases in veterinary cover will not result in increased charges to them.

The joint letter, signed by bodies as varied as the Country Landowners Association, The Soil Association, Church of England, Tenant Farmers Association and Royal Society for the Protection of Birds follows a letter sent last October.

More than 60 organisations signed the first letter which pointed out the consequences to the rural economy of the closure of small and medium sized plants.

Meanwhile a Cardiganshire abattoir operator has told an NFU Wales Cymru fact finding group that most of the 13 small slaughterhouses in Wales could close.

Huw Evans told the group of senior officials visiting his tiny plant at Tregaron this week that it had a 20 livestock units/week throughput limit to qualify for a rebate of 50% of Meat Hygiene Service charges, and only part-time veterinary presence.

Sticking to the limit, currently costs £673.89 to kill 20 units, including £131.59 for inspections. If a veterinary surgeon had to be present for 50% of the 10 hours it took to slaughter, and the 50% MHS subsidy disappeared, inspection charges would rise by £300 and the plant would close.

To be viable the abattoir needed to kill around 30 units/week, the limit in Germany.

Mr Evans said abattoirs like his handled only 15 to 20% of the total kill, but this was enough to stop big abattoirs linked to supermarkets driving down prices.

livestock prices any further. He urged his visitors to try to help community abattoirs by getting the organisers of agricultural events to insist that caterers used locally produced meat.

At the visit Hugh Richards, president of NFU Cymru-Wales echoed Mr Evans sentiments and said losing small abattoirs would hit the developing organic sector, reduce consumer choice, limit tourism operators opportunities to promote local produce, and had possible animal welfare implications.