15 June 2001

More abattoirs facing closure

MANY slaughterhouses remain shut because of foot-and-mouth and might never reopen; others are likely to follow as overcapacity bites.

That is the stark warning from Peter Scott, chief executive of the British Meat Federation. During the F&M crisis, of the UKs 387 abattoirs, 57 have remained closed, 296 are licensed for slaughter, and 34 are engaged in the welfare disposal scheme only.

Even when normality returns, overcapacity will be a threat. During the past three months, 200 slaughterhouses at most, and never less than 150, have killed 90% of normal pig throughput, 80% of cattle and 45% of sheep.

Mr Scott believes further rationalisation of the processing sector – which started before BSE in 1996 – might continue.

This time it might not just be small and medium-sized firms that feel the pinch. Mr Scott fears some big sheep export plants that have been forced to close might not reopen.

In those circumstances, calls for greater localisation of the meat industry fly in the face of logic, he says. "We are an increasingly urban society, and more extensive and organic food production will not feed the country. It certainly wont feed Birmingham, Leeds or London."

Local and regional meat will service a niche market, but its role ends there, says Mr Scott.

Bob Bansback, the Meat and Livestock Commissions corporate strategy director, says reduced slaughtering this year because of F&M culls means the abattoir sector is in for a rough ride.

The MLC estimates cattle and pig throughput will fall by 10%. Hardest-hit will be sheep, with nearly a quarter fewer animals entering the food chain, compared with last year.

Mr Bansback expects meat production to recover to pre-F&M levels by 2003. &#42