THE NATIONAL Beef Association has called for the “tactical shutdown” of some very large abattoirs because it says it would improve efficiency in the beef industry.

The organisation claims that some abattoirs are not efficient enough because they are working at significantly less than full capacity.

The NBA says this means they operate with excessive overhead costs, which are taken off the purchase price of animals.

“The problem concerns only the very largest abattoirs. Some of them work at only 40% capacity,”said NBA chief executive Robert Forster.

“This means that overheads are out of proportion to the capacity used, and this can add substantial extra costs per animal processed.”

Mr Forster said he would like to see as many abattoirs as possible thriving provided they are run efficiently.

But clever tactical rationalisation in the big plant sector was an obvious solution, and a necessary one, because it would get rid of some of these unwanted overheads.

“Reductions of £30-£90 a head in the cost of processing cattle moving through these premises would be of obvious all-round benefit to the beef industry as a whole,” he said.

Jim Webster, beef and sheep consultant for the Country Land & Business Association, said Mr Forster‘s suggestion might be a good short-term strategy to help maintain a good spread of abattoirs across the country.

“With the current prices there will be fewer cattle available when the single farm payment is introduced, and if we don‘t shut down a big abattoir, we may see many smaller ones struggling to survive.”

Mr Webster added that he hoped such a move might encourage the big supermarkets to consider starting to do business with smaller abattoirs.

But he warned of the possibility that the opposite might happen.

“The last thing we want to see is that the supermarkets decide to subsidise large meat plants,” he said.

Peter Scott, director of the British Meat Processors Association, acknowledged that there probably were not any large abattoirs running to full capacity in Britain.

But he insisted that Mr Forster was wrong in attributing this to inefficiency.

“When running a large meat plant, you need to make sure that you have got enough capacity to handle changes in the market,” he said.