8 October 1999

Ruinous knock-ons from small abattoir closure?

For some farm businesses

and their communities the

governments regulatory

review is critical.

Robert Davies reports from

a small abattoir where red

tape and proposed increased

vet charges threaten

a lifetimes work

THE knock-on effects of closure at Doug Griffithss behind-the-shop slaughterhouse at Leintwardine on the Shropshire/Herefordshire border would be far-reaching. A dozen people directly earn a living from the tiny abattoir, the village shop and another at Ludlow.

If he were unable to use shop staff to butcher stock slaughtered for local farmers deep freezers it would be impossible to justify the high costs of running the adjacent retail outlet. Customers who now travel long distances to buy high quality, home-killed meat would not make the trip, and a local population of 800 is too small to sustain the business which could join the scores of abattoirs which are closing at the rate of one a week.

Organic producers would lose a Soil Association approved slaughter point, and around 30 farmers would be deprived of a local deadweight outlet for premium earning top quality stock. Other retailer butchers and caterers in the area would also have to find another wholesaler able to supply superior products.

Since 1980 almost £250,000 has been invested in the abattoir to meet changing regulations and the plant has a throughput of around 50 units/week. This means the Meat Hygiene Service charge on each carcass is high – the standard charge alone is £556 a month. Additional charges are currently over £1100 a month and when a contract veterinary surgeon has to be called in the bill is £81/hour.

At present the plant is allowed to operate with veterinary cover for only 25% of the time. The planned increase to 50% would make life very difficult and raising it to 100% by the end of 2001 would make the abattoir unviable.

"MHS charges have already increased by 30% in a year. Ten years ago we were paid for our waste offal now there is a charge to take it away, including £135/tonne for specified risk material. All the cards are stacked against small operators who are vital for the quality end of the market.

"If we have to accept 100% veterinary supervision it should be by the sort of specialist meat vets who operate at Continental plants and not veterinary surgeons. Having highly trained expensive vets at abattoirs does not benefit farmers, animals, butchers or the consumer.

"I believe supervision should be in the hands of meat inspectors backed up by vets. Unless all smaller abattoirs get a derogation on veterinary inspection they will disappear. This is recognised throughout the rest of Europe but our government is listening to supermarkets which want to eliminate small abattoirs and the shops they supply.