The only remaining small abattoir in the Yorkshire Dales, in prime minister Rishi Sunak’s own constituency, is to close just weeks after his government launched a £4m fund to support the sector.
Family-owned McIntyre Meats, which has been in business for 23 years and has 1,800 customers, will cease trading on 27 March.
The abattoir operates from Mr Sunak’s Wensleydale constituency, an irony not lost on a sector that had long campaigned for support for small abattoirs before Defra announced its Smaller Abattoir Fund with grants of up to £60,000.
Multiple small abattoirs across the UK have closed in the past two years, including Tottingworth in East Sussex, Black Brow in Cumbria, Mettrick’s in Derbyshire and Long Compton in the Cotswolds.
Christopher Price, chief executive of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust, said a sustainable livestock sector relied on the UK having a network of smaller abattoirs able to process small numbers of non-standard animals to high welfare standards.
Funding ‘too late’
Although Mr Price welcomed Defra’s new fund, he lamented: “It would have been better if this had been in place 10 years ago.”
With each closure, customers must travel to abattoirs further afield, adding to journey times and cost of production, which is making some meat businesses unviable.
Sheepshare, which supplied communities in Brighton with local meat, has ceased operating following the closure of Tottingworth, says the Sustainable Food Trust (SFT).
Graham Bottley, who uses McIntyre Meats to slaughter sheep for direct supply, fears its closure could force him to abandon that side of his business.
“The closure of the abattoir will have a significant knock-on effect on numerous small businesses like mine, butchers, independent supermarkets and more,” he suggested.
The SFT warns that the loss of local meat supply chains is pushing the UK towards an “increasingly centralised, consolidated system, dominated by supermarkets and a few, very large slaughtering and processing operations”.
Longer journey times
Its head of policy and campaigns, Megan Perry, said journeys of 200 miles to access the nearest abattoir are now not uncommon.
“This is bad for animal welfare, bad for the environment and bad for customers who want to buy local meat,” she said.
Although the recently announced grant funding will help some businesses, Mr Price said it must be accompanied by a relaxation in regulations and the application of the “5% rule” – EU legislation that enables abattoirs to handle up to 5% of the national throughput and still benefit from reduced official veterinarian attendance.
“Most other countries have applied this rule, but the UK hasn’t,” he said.
The deadline for applications to the Smaller Abattoir Fund is 30 September 2024.