By FWi staff

MANY slaughterhouses remain shut due to the foot-and-mouth crisis and might never reopen. Others are likely to follow as overcapacity bites.

This is the stark warning of Peter Scott, chief executive of the British Meat Federation.

During the foot-and-mouth crisis, of the 387 UK abattoirs, 57 have remained closed, 296 are licensed for slaughter, while 34 are engaged in the welfare disposal scheme only.

Even when normality returns, overcapacity will be a threat.

During the last 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 forced to close over the past three months might not reopen.

In this context, calls for greater localisation of the meat industry fly in the face of logic, he says.

“The food manufacturing and retail sectors are consolidating into fewer larger companies and market driven logic points to livestock producers and meat plants following the same trend.

“We are an increasingly urban society, 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, because it simply cant satisfy consumer demand for convenience and seven day, 24-hour shopping, he maintains.

Bob Bansback, the Meat and Livestock Commissions corporate strategy director, says that reduced slaughtering this year means it is going to be a tough ride for the abattoir sector.

“This years slaughtering will be lower, because of the number of animals taken out of the food chain and because of fewer breeding animals.”

The MLC estimates that cattle and pig throughput levels will fall by 10%.

The hardest hit sector will be sheep with nearly a quarter fewer animals entering the food chain, compared with last year.

This will obviously effect abattoir throughputs for the next 18 months, but he foresees recovery in meat production to pre-foot-and-mouth levels by 2003.

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