17 November 1995

Big No to more Welsh abattoirs

THE Welsh livestock industry needs additional slaughtering capacity like it needs a hole in the head.

That was the main conclusion at the end of a Development Board for Rural Wales seminar on the future of the meat industry west of Offas Dyke. It was made by Michael Haines, director of the Welsh Institute of Rural Affairs, who chaired the meeting, at which a succession of speakers warned of the dangers of over-capacity.

Martin Palmer, head of MLCs Industry Strategy Unit, reported a recent survey which showed Welsh abattoirs could kill 52% more cattle than their current throughput and 4m extra lambs. There were also plans to increase the number of export licensed plants from nine to 15 by the end of 1996 and lift total capacity even higher.

Existing plants were already facing severe competition for stock, and quotas would prevent supplies growing. They needed to enhance their business efficiency and reduce costs by developing better operational technology. But Dr Palmer acknowledged that company bosses were too busy with the day-to-day business of surviving on thin margins to focus on improving planning, finance and marketing strategies.

They needed to know their target markets, respond quickly to change and develop closer links with producers. These in turn must accept that the big multiples, which sold 55% of Britains meat in 1994, were serious about farm assurance and traceability.

Gwent farmer Maurice Trumper suggested that the £800,000 a year spent by the promotional co-op Welsh Lamb Enterprise should be invested in a processing plant to handle carcases from existing abattoirs and to develop a new range of products.

But abattoir operators Oriel Jones and Edward Hamer said the fact that companies like theirs had not rushed into high tech processing should be a warning. The commercial truth was that the profits were not good enough to justify the investment required.

But the meeting agreed that strategic state investment was needed to help new and existing companies develop processing facilities and new products.

Prof Haines added that the whole UK meat industry was at a crossroads. There should be a corporate development plan for Welsh Food plc.

Prof Haines – fresh capacity is needed like a hole in the head