28 November 2000
Lifeline means nothing, say abattoirs
By Alistair Driver
GOVERNMENT plans to help small abattoirs mean nothing unless a new law designed to prevent the spread of BSE is dropped, meat-plant owners have warned.
A ban on “pithing” – the insertion of a metal wire into cattles brains after stunning to prevent them kicking out – is due to be imposed on 1 January next year.
Forty-six out of 48 meat-plant owners belonging to the Small Abattoir Federation believe the ban would force them to close, despite concessions on inspection charges.
Agriculture minister Nick Brown has promised to offset up to 19m in inspection charges which has driven many of Britains small abattoirs out of business.
But relieving the burden of meat-hygiene costs for smaller abattoirs will be no more than a “cynical gesture” if pithing is banned, said the Soil Association.
Most large abattoirs have the space and headroom to hoist stunned cattle high out of the way, so kicking is not a safety threat to staff.
But most smaller slaughterhouses do not have such facilities and their owners say they cannot afford to make the changes necessary to comply with the new law.
The Soil Association, which relies on small abattoirs to process much of the meat from organic farmers, said the pithing ban was poorly thought-out.
The ban was part of a hastily agreed compromise package of European Union BSE controls, and Britain should push for it to be delayed for six months, it said.
“The ban is being introduced without proper consultation or time for preparation,” said Soil Association director Patrick Holden.
“It will have a disastrous effect on many organic producers, who market meat locally through farm shops, farmers markets and other methods of direct sales.”
The Food Standards Agency said research had found a theoretical possibility that pithing may cause contamination of carcasses with BSE-infected brain tissue.
It is urgently seeking views from slaughterhouses on the impact of the ban.