6 June 1997

Fight supermarts, say indie butchers

SUPERMARKETS must not be allowed to dictate the future of meat trading in this country, insist independent butchers.

President of the national federation of meat and food traders, Ken Wakelin, told the annual meeting in Harrogate that supermarkets had become the biggest buyers from slaughterhouses.

With that came their "ability to dictate terms and conditions to their suppliers, with the intention of leaving what they do not want for us", Mr Wakelin said.

He was also critical of the reduction in slaughterhouse numbers in recent years, driven by tighter EU legislation. "It is now widely recognised that huge operations with massive throughput of animals drawn from very wide areas is not the way to produce the best meat.

"Shorter journeys, fewer animals together and careful treatment into and through the slaughterhouse is essential. And our traditional view that small is beautiful is becoming recognised again as having merit," he said.

Mr Wakelin, who runs a butchers shop in Wye, Kent, also judges stock at local Christmas fatstock shows as well as the Maidstone and Ardingly agricultural shows. And he is a keen advocate of livestock markets.

He told the annual meeting: "I have been a livestock buyer for many years and recognise the value of auction markets to butchers and producers alike. There is great pressure on the number of markets, caused in part by the cull of cattle under the BSE over 30-month scheme, where a proportion is dealt with on a dead-weight basis.

"We have also seen at least one major supermarket buyer proclaim that livestock markets should be done away with. Why? If they suit buyer and seller alike, as they regularly do, and continue to provide a valuable supply route for the butcher or slaughterer, they must be allowed to continue."

Mr Wakelin said independent butchers had not received a penny of compensation to cover the catastrophic effects of the BSE crisis. "It was quite outrageous and unacceptable for the previous government to deny our sector support," he insisted, calling on the new farm minister to remedy that situation.