8 December 2000

Farmers unify in abattoir action

FARMERS should band together to create their own local slaughtering and processing facilities to reverse the effects of declining abattoir numbers, a report on the plight of the sector has concluded.

Recently-announced government money for the ailing sector has come too late to prevent large parts of the south east of England being without a slaughterhouse, a survey commissioned by the South East of England Development Agency (SEEDA) shows.

Ten years ago, there were about 40 abattoirs in the region. Today only 14 remain and there are no fully commercial abattoirs left in Berkshire, the Isle of Wight and West Sussex, according to a regional survey by chartered surveyors Dreweatt Neate. Most of the remaining south-east abattoirs are operating on thin margins.

The pattern is repeated across the country. According to the Soil Association, about one fifth of abattoirs have closed in the last year and more are on the brink.

One of the key pressures has been the threat of increased meat hygiene charges when full time veterinary attendance in abattoirs is introduced under EU law, the SEEDA report concluded.

This will be eased by the release of millions of £s of government money, unveiled in the Rural White Paper. The funds will allow abattoirs to be charged on a headage rate for inspection charges, cheaper for many smaller units than paying the hourly rate for inspectors as they do now.

But a great deal of damage has already been done. And with the closure of abattoirs in remote areas the ability of farmers to make a good living has been hit. The expansion of farmers markets is threatened and there are implications for animal welfare and the environment, the report says.