16 March 2001

MHS charges cut may be too late for some

NEW meat hygiene service charges will come into force from Apr 1.

They are based on a standard charge rather than hourly rates of MHS staff, but it might be too late for many plants.

In 1999, 150 outfits processing fewer than 20 units a week existed. Now that has fallen to just 118.

One small abattoir told farmers weekly it expects to save about £3200 a month under the new system. "You cant earn that sort of money," says the owner, who would normally slaughter 150 lambs, 25 cattle and 70-80 pigs a week. Another butchers shop, Checketts at Ombersley, Worcs, gave up its slaughter facilities because "the writing was on the wall".

Owner Tony Checkett says: "I am pretty sick because we could have coped with the new charges. If we had mothballed the plant we probably could have re-opened it, but it has been sold off."

While the reprieve is welcome, most industry observers believe it is too late to reinstate the network of small abattoirs that existed before.

Most are now permanently out of commission. Valuable town centre sites have been sold off for development, others have been demolished. Planning permission for new sites might also prove difficult.

But Bob Kennard, abattoir campaign co-ordinator for the Soil Association, is more confident. "A number of plants, which are closed and not demolished, could come out of mothballs." &#42

SMALL ABATTOIRS

&#8226 MHS charges cut on Apr 1.

&#8226 More plants unlikely.

&#8226 Planning permission may be difficult.