Farmers and meat industry representatives have dismissed as “unworkable” government plans to ensure livestock are sent to the closest abattoir for slaughter.
The idea, unveiled by the Conservative Party at its conference in Manchester, could also lead to the banning of most live exports.
Defra secretary Theresa Villiers said the proposal – one of a series of animal welfare moves – would “choke off” the live exports trade and protect animals by restricting journey times.
But NFU deputy president Stuart Roberts said the plan simply wouldn’t work in practice. “It shows a serious lack of understanding about the geography of processing in this country,” he said.
The advent of specialist abattoirs, dealing with certain types of stock for certain customers, meant it wouldn’t be possible or desirable for livestock producers to be limited solely to their nearest centre.
“We’ve already got some of the highest welfare standards in the world,” said Mr Roberts. “Any changes should be introduced against a backdrop of how our meat supply chain actually works and how it’s structured.”
Norman Bagley of the Association of Independent Meat Suppliers trade association dubbed the proposal “uninformed nonsense”.
“What happens if your nearest abattoir kills 30 sheep a week and you have 300 to send?” he said.
It reflected the “worrying anti-commercial livestock farming bias at Defra over the past few years and totally ignores the huge investment in animal transport improvement,” added Mr Bagley.
“The big danger is they could take commercial choice out of the hands of farmers at a time when Defra has been insisting the industry becomes more efficient and competitive. Closing down competition in such circumstances is hypocrisy on steroids.”
The Countryside Alliance added that, while minimising live animal transport and ensuring animals went to the nearest available abattoir were theoretically sensible, such moves couldn’t work when one-third of the UK’s small abattoirs have closed in the past decade.
“The government has an opportunity to stimulate the recreation of a local abattoir network when Britain leaves the EU. Only by replacing lost local abattoirs, can it ensure that its policy on live transport will have full effect,” a spokesperson said.