A JOINT EFFORT
The fight to save small abattoirs
is hotting up. The issue has
been debated in parliament
and a petition is soon to be
presented to government,
calling for their fairer treatment.
One of the campaigns most
ardent supporters is Surrey
farmer and butcher Nobby
Bristow. Tim Relf meets him
NOBBYS father once said to him of becoming a farmer: "You either have to be a maniac or an enthusiast."
"Im an enthusiast," says the 77-year-old. And the latest subject of his enthusiasm is the campaign to safeguard small abattoirs.
Charging such firms on an hourly basis for statutory meat hygiene and veterinary inspection is, he says, unfair. "The cost is horrendous."
Its forcing them to close which, in turn, limits the choices available to farmers. It means animals have to be transported further – bringing extra traffic and possible welfare implications. It has, in short, knock-on effects across the rural economy.
"It beggars belief," says Nobby. "Does the government want enterprise to survive – because it seems hell-bent on closing down those who have embarked on it."
The solution, he claims, is a simple one: charge on a per-head rather than hourly basis – as happens in other European counties
The issue certainly has some high-profile supporters. The Duchess of Devonshire recently wrote: "Everyone who is concerned with food standards – be they producers, retailers or consumers – should sign the petition and jolt the government into action at once."
Nobbys been fighting behind the scenes for months – writing letters and asking customers to sign the petition organised by, among others, the Rare Breeds Survival Trust, the CLA and the Soil Association.
The petition is supported by more than 130 rural organisations. Unless the current charging structure for Meat Hygiene Service inspections is changed, it claims, only the largest "factory" abattoirs will survive. And this threatens animal welfare, rare breeds, the environment and consumer choice.
* Fair and equitable
The petition, which calls for the government to make the charging regime more "fair and equitable", was sent to butchers shops nationwide. And it gained plenty of signatures at Nobbys shop in Outwood, Surrey.
This is a place customers travel many miles to visit. Its tucked out of the way. As he says: "There is no such thing as passing trade. People have to want to come here."
He took over this shop in the late 1970s although his farming career began in earnest in 1952, when he acquired land in this area having left the Air Force. "I wasnt born and bred a farmer. I came into it because I wanted to."
Its a career that has seen him among the prizes and perform prestigious judging roles at a host of events. Smithfield Show organisers have even broken with the convention of having a three-year gap between the same person judging, to ask him to be in the hot-seat again this November. "The greatest honour Ive ever had," says Nobby.
Nowadays he keeps Aberdeen Angus cattle, sheep and turkeys. And he still lives near the shop with his wife, Jean, the lady he married up the road in Betchworth on VJ Day, August 16th 1945.
"No-ones enjoyed life more than me. I havent earned a fortune – but Ive enjoyed every minute. Ive had a lot of pleasure from farming. Ive had the privilege of being in the company of some of the best farmers in the country. Im very satisfied."
So why get so worked up about the abattoir issue then? "Its not about me – Ive had my day. Its just wrong to destroy smaller firms."
* Changing tastes
Back at the shop, Nobby talks about his customers and how tastes have changed over the years. Which gets him onto the subject of what he likes. "Im a beef man," he says. Then, after a little deliberation: "I like a nice bit of roast pork with crackling." And then after another pause: "Actually I love lamb, I love a shoulder of lamb."
He says hes on a diet, a diet cutting out carbohydrates. No plans to cut down on meat then?
"That could be a bit more difficult," he laughs.
Talking shop… Nobby outside his shop (right) and on the farm.