11 February 2000
Small abattoirs still under threat

By Isabel Davies

SMALL abattoirs are still under threat, despite the governments acceptance of most of the recommendations proposed by an industry working group.

The small abattoir sector is bitterly disappointed that agriculture minister Nick Brown has failed to freeze veterinary supervision charges as a temporary measure.

The proposal was one of six that the minister rejected out of a total of 107 recommendations put forward by the governments working group on red tape.

Mr Brown said that freezing charges would break European Union law, and the UK could face legal proceedings if it failed to comply.

The government will push on to comply with EU requirements to increase veterinary cover from 25% to 100% in every meat plant.

Robert Kennard, abattoir campaign co-ordinator for the Soil Association and a member of the working group, said the lack of assistance would lead to closures.

A straw poll of 30 abattoirs carried out by the Small Abattoir Federation found that 26 thought they would still be forced to close.

Three of the abattoirs said they could close within a week.

“At the moment, there is just a medium- and long-term strategy.

“There is no immediate assistance,” said Mr Kennard.

An industry task force set up to investigate ways to reduce costs could take at least three months to report back, he added.

Freezing charges would only give temporary relief, but it was still an essential move.

“It would give people the confidence to keep going,” he said.

Alan Kirkwood, president of the Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers, argued that 100% veterinary cover was disproportionate to the risk involved.

“This is one issue where the UK government should be willing to return to Brussels and take a firm stance,” he said.

“There are no health risks attached to our longstanding veterinary procedures, and no reason why we should change, except EU dogma.”

The closure of small abattoirs would prevent farmers from getting into niche markets, claims the National Federation of Meat and Food Traders.

According to the Rare Breeds Survival Trust, it would also put at risk the future of rare breeds.

Large abattoirs did not have the systems in place to cope with small batches of rare breeds from individuals, it said.