15 October 1999

Cutting out retailer makes

sense

Getting your stock

butchered at a local abattoir

and selling it from the farm

gate could help boost

returns and keep your local

slaughterhouse in business.

James Garner reports

SELLING some of your stock processed and packaged from the farmgate wont make you a millionaire, but it can add value by cutting out the retailers margin.

This increasingly popular option for producers might soon be threatened by increasing Meat Hygiene Service legislation, which is causing many small-scale slaughterhouses to falter under rising costs.

MHS rules do not require small-scale operations to pay all inspectors charges. But this may change with impending legislation, although a derogation may be enacted for abattoirs with a throughput of less than 20 units a week.

Any increase in costs will have disastrous effects on the 340 remaining slaughterhouses in the UK, believes one Norfolk butcher.

"We couldnt carry on slaughtering," says butcher Sam Papworth who runs two retail outlets in the Norfolk market towns of Fakenham and Swaffham, and pays nearly £1000 in additional charges each month for MHS and hygiene assessments.

"We pay a vet for hygiene assessments – one to two hours a week, costing us £50-£100. If the governments proposals are enforced on small abattoirs and the vet has to be in the slaughterhouse all day it will cost £400 a week, and you cannot justify slaughtering animals at this cost."

These extra charges could mean the end of locally produced meats, he says. "I hope sense prevails. From a welfare angle, look how many cattle and sheep would have to be hauled further to slaughter.

"Traditionally, local slaughtering reduces haulage and is therefore welfare-friendly. It is crazy to think I may have to send my stock to Northumberland to be killed."

Two sets of vets are involved in abattoirs. One set makes hygiene and process control assessments, which have to be paid for by the abattoir, while the other set are employed by the MHS to supervise Specified Risk Material (SRM) removal imposed after the BSE crisis. The MHS currently absorbs these costs for small operators.

But the MHS may charge smaller operations if the derogation is not enforced. "This will mean another hour of meat inspectors time, costing an extra £15-£20 a week." This is on top of the £150 a week he pays for SRM removal by a registered disposer.

"Its just one more cost. This means slaughtering lambs, which require SRM removal, would become difficult and killing cattle would no longer be cost-effective because of the time it takes."

One way in which Mr Papworth has been able to spread escalating costs is through a home-kill service to producers. "We have been struggling with extra charges, but have been able to support these by killing more lambs or cattle for individuals.

"Home-kills are a small-scale abattoir operation. The big boys are not going to mess around with it," he adds.

Mr Papworth has no concern that producers might steel his customers; instead he actively encourages home-kills. "Having some livestock killed locally and sold pre-packed and cut to family and friends can support your local butcher and allow this practice to survive.

"It enables smaller abattoirs to spread MHS costs over a larger number of animals and can also boost producers income."

An 18-20kg carcass lamb worth £40 in the market can be slaughtered for £12 and sold for an extra £10 at least. Likewise, its possible to add extra value to cattle, he says.

"I think home-kills are an ideal opportunity for producers to ask local people if they want a whole or half butchered lamb. It is cheaper for them to pay for lamb like this and it gives producers a chance to improve margins."

Selling home-kills also gives producers an opportunity to finish stock exactly as customers require. "It presents the perfect excuse to say to a customer – look Ive got this cracking lamb thats a little bit heavier and with a bit more finish than normal, are you interested?" says Mr Papworth.

"Stock are often sold on a unit cost basis from the farm, so the animals weight is not as important."

Mr Papworths advice to producers is simple. "Just talk to your local butcher. Some butchers use somebody elses slaughterhouse, but this doesnt mean they will not be able to have your lambs killed and delivered."

Most of the time animals are blast frozen and producers sell them like this. "When selling fresh meat it needs to be moved to the final consumer within one day. It can be sent by post; I send sausages to a customer in Scotland using next-day delivery."

This is an important point because the internet offers producers an ideal opportunity to market produce directly. "When sending meat through the post you need to know someone will be there to receive it and it shouldnt spend any longer than 24 hours in transit," he adds.

&#8226 Add value to stock.

&#8226 Improve margins.

&#8226 Support local butcher.