Meat hygiene costs could force Welsh abattoir closures

Costly meat hygiene inspections could force the closure of most of Wales’ small and medium-sized slaughterhouses.

Full cost recovery for official controls in meat plants could see most of the £32m bill being shouldered by UK livestock farmers.

According to a Wales-wide consultation of Farmers Union of Wales members, the Food Standards Agency‘s move towards the full cost recovery is unanimously unpopular.

“There seems little doubt that the proposals will make a significant number of small and medium-sized slaughterhouses uneconomical to run, as many premises estimate large increases in inspection costs,” said FUW president, Gareth Vaughan.

“This would result in the closure of a significant number – possibly the majority – of Welsh premises.”

He says the union had contacted a number of slaughter industry representatives and found the majority believed the proposals could lead to most Welsh slaughterhouses becoming uneconomical.

The FUW stressed that the slaughterhouses most threatened by the proposals are those which supply independent meat outlets, such as butchers, and their closure would therefore severely undermine those outlets.

“It is estimated more than 50% of cattle, 70% of sheep, 25% of pigs and 40% of poultry are slaughtered in independent, small and medium-sized plants,” said Mr Vaughan.

“The proposals will undermine independent businesses and play straight into the hands of the major supermarkets, which are already too dominant over the supply chain.”

NFU Cymru has formally lodged its opposition to the proposed Food Standards Agency’s hike in abattoir charges and has called for a full review of meat inspections. It also wants the Welsh Assembly to intervene if the FSA refuses to rethink its demands.

The union says full cost recovery could potentially force many farmers out of livestock production. “The consultation comes at a time when farmers, like other industries, are facing huge increases in costs for feed, fuel and fertiliser,” said NFU Cymru president, Ed Bailey.

“The proposals threaten the viability and sustainability of livestock production in Wales and throughout the UK at a time when farmers are being asked to meet the challenge of increasing food production to meet global demand.”