So you want to process your own meat?

Can I do my own slaughtering?
No. If you’re not suitably licensed, it’s illegal to slaughter your own animals (unless you’re rearing and slaughtering fewer than 10,000 birds a year). All other livestock must be taken to a licensed abattoir.

What will they charge?
Around 60-70/bullock, 10-15/pig and 7-10/lamb is the average.

Who should I get to do the processing?
You can either get an outside firm to do the processing or tackle the job yourself.

Many abattoirs or cutting plants are happy to hang, cut and process meat for a fee, avoiding the need for the outlay of a new on-farm facility. Make sure they’re licensed under the Meat Hygiene Regulations, though.

If a normal butcher cuts up something for a farmer, the farmer cannot then sell it on, explains James Kittow, managing director of Kilhallon Meats, Pye, St Austell, Cornwall, which has just spent 300,000 refurbishing its plant to provide a licensed cutting plant service.

If there isn’t one anywhere near you (or there is but they won’t take your meat) the local authority may sometimes make an exception, but don’t assume that’s the case. In any case it may be better to establish the meat supply and sale as a co-operative or partnership venture or franchising agreement with the butcher. For more information on this contact the FSA (see contacts box).

What will they charge me for that?
You supply a list of the cuts or processed meats you want and the length of time you want them hung for and the processor takes care of the rest. You can then sell on as much of the packaged meat as you like. You’ll pay about 40p/kg for basic cuts of beef, pork or lamb, an extra 15/side for bacon or an extra 1.59/kg for sausage and burgers.

What if I decide to do the job myself?
You’ll need to set up an on-farm facility, which could also be shared with neighbours to lower the capital and running costs, says Kerry Fowler, technical food adviser at Cornwall Taste of the West. The main benefit of doing the processing yourself is that you can get more profit, she points out. However it involves time, equipment and storage costs and extra hassle.

What rules and regulations do I have to follow?
Most producers selling food to the public – whether through farm shops, farmers’ markets or the internet, must be registered with the local authority as a food business. Registration is free and applications should be made to the local Environmental Health Service.

If you handle exposed raw meat and sell direct to the public you must also be registered with the local authority as a retail butcher. You must mainly sell the meat direct from the farm premises, but can supply up to 1t (or 50% of your weekly production – whichever is the lesser) to other shops, providing the meat remains in their ownership until its sale to the final customer. This includes selling at farmers’ markets.

Licensing costs 100 a year, but from 1 Jan 2006, retail butchers will no longer need to be licensed, although they must still comply with the health and hygiene requirements.

If you cut meat for a third party you must be licensed as a cutting plant under the Meat Hygiene Regulations. If you produce less than 5t of red meat or 3t of white meat a week, you can be licensed as a low-throughput premises.

Licensing as a cutting plant is free through the Food Standards Agency, but paid-for supervision by an official veterinary surgeon from the Meat Hygiene Service is required. All staff must be trained in meat hygiene.

Having said that, from 1 Jan 2006 premises can be exempt from approval if they are supplying meat to third parties on a “marginal, localised and restricted” basis. This is expected to mean supplying up to 2t of meat a week or a quarter of the weekly business, whichever is greater, to other establishments in the plant’s own county plus either the neighbouring county or 30 miles from the boundary of the supplying plant’s county, whichever is greater.

Will I need planning permission to turn a farm building into a processing room?
Not always. Check with your local planners.

What about business rates?
Business rates are likely to be charged on any building being used for food cutting, preparation or sale. Again, contact your local authority or district valuation office.

I expect I’ll need a lot of equipment?
A suitable room with electricity, water and washable surfaces for the processing facility is essential. However, the equipment requirements are relatively basic – stainless steel table (300), chiller unit (3000), weighing and labelling scales (1500), cutting implements (300), gas flush tray sealer (to increase oxygen availability) (6500) or cling film wrapper (150) or vacuum packer (1500), mincing machine (3500), sausage maker (2500) and burger maker (200).

Second-hand equipment is reasonably easy to find — good sources include butchers’ sundries dealers and Meat Trades Journal.

Can I get a grant?
Farmers in Cornwall or other Objective One areas can get 50% capital funding through the Rural Diversification Capital Grants Programme, and marketing grants through the Marketing Grant Scheme.
In the rest of the country other grants are available through
DEFRA’s Rural Enterprise Scheme and Processing and Marketing Grant Scheme. For more information contact your local Business Link office.

I’m bracing myself for a lot of health and hygiene rules – how tough are they?
The health and hygiene legislation is certainly extensive when it comes to handling, processing, cooking and storing meat. Handwashing and cleaning facilities are essential where unwrapped foods are being handled and utensils must be washed in a separate sink.

Cooked meat must be prepared and stored separately from raw meat, as must packaged and exposed meat. Some products must also be kept refrigerated during transport to and from the point of sale, although icepacks used in insulated containers are usually sufficient.

Handling of any meat stored and transported to farmers’ markets must comply with the Food Safety (General Food Hygiene) Regulations 1995, designed to protect food from contamination. Finally, you have to give thought to hygienic waste disposal.

To ensure that your premises comply, contact your local Environmental Health Service. They will inspect and register you.

How much training will I need?
If you’re handling meat you should go on a one-day training course and gain a foundation certificate in meat and poultry hygiene. Courses start from 30 and further qualifications such as NVQs in butchery skills, are available. A Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) certificate may also be needed. For more information contact the Meat Training Council.

Is there much choice when it comes to packaging?
About 99% of farm-retailed meat is vacuum packed. But meat which is starved of oxygen — for example, when it is shrink wrapped — goes a dark colour which can put off potential customers (though the flavour is unaffected). If you can afford it get an oxygen flushing machine.

Are there legal requirements about labelling too?
Yes. All meat or meat products sold to the public must be labelled clearly, with a product description, details of additives, presence of GM material, meat content and metric weight. The price must be clearly displayed and meat that needs to be kept chilled labelled with the temperature it must be stored and transported at, plus a best-before date.

Beef must also be labelled with its origin, traceability code, country of slaughter and butchering, slaughter and cutting plant reference codes, and date. Claims about the local origin and rearing method of beef can only be included if approved under DEFRA’s Beef Labelling Scheme.
Minced meat is dealt with separately under the Minced Meat and Meat Preparations (Hygiene) Regulations 1995. Pre-packed foods which are bought in or supplied to another retailer also have a number of other labelling requirements. For more information contact your local Trading Standards office.


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