The survey found that 88% of the 1,300 businesses that responded said their closest abattoir was either essential or important to the success of their company, while 64% said the availability – or lack of availability – of a local abattoir had impacted their future business plans.
It also revealed that the UK is losing small abattoirs at a rate of 10%, according to data from the Food Standards Agency. This has left abattoir customers reliant on a handful of remaining operators, creating a ‘fragile system vulnerable to collapse’.
Journey times have increased significantly as a result, with some animals forced to travel more than 200 miles to slaughter. Aside from the unneeded stress this causes to the animals, this also drives up food miles and subsequently, carbon emissions.
Respondents also reported that many remaining smaller abattoirs are increasingly busy and difficult to book into. These factors have forced some businesses to close or limit their operations.
The survey showed that farmers and food businesses are keen to find solutions – 64% said they would be interested in cooperative-owned abattoirs, 81% expressed an interest in mobile abattoirs, while 73% said they would pay more for this service.
There was also interest in doing more with their products, as 33% said they would collect the hides and skins if they had access to further processing facilities.
Megan Perry, head of Policy and Campaigns at the Sustainable Food Trust, said a diverse network of abattoirs throughout the UK was vital to farms of all sizes and to the viability of local meat businesses.
Access to funding
“We welcomed the Government’s announcement of funding for the sector, earlier this year,” she added. “However, for this fund to have the impact that is needed, it must be accessible, broad and with a long timeframe, and it must be implemented alongside work to address other issues including regulation, recruitment and waste disposal costs.
“We will work with the Abattoir Sector Group and Defra’s Small Abattoir Working Group in progressing solutions to these issues.”
National Craft Butchers managing director Eleanor O’Brien warned that without help from the Government, the small abattoir sector will continue to stagnate, leading to severe consequences for animal welfare, farmers and supply chain diversity and resilience.
Commenting on the survey, soil association organic farming advisor Adrian Steele echoed O’Brien’s calls for further support from the Government to sustain a viable network of abattoirs across the UK.
“It is also critical to understand the role that local abattoirs play in supporting local food economies and the government’s own ambitions for local nature recovery,” Steele continued.
“Many local abattoirs are an essential cornerstone of local supply chains and support local marketplaces where small-scale welfare-friendly livestock farmers often sell much of their produce.
“The government may have promised future funding grants but the continued delay is having a devastating impact on businesses. It is imperative that they act now and confirm the level of financial support available to provide the certainty that the industry needs.”
Concerns for the future of the UK's abattoirs were raised in 2021, after reports found most small abattoirs in the UK face closure within five years without Government help as they drown in red tape and grapple with a lack of skilled workers and lost revenue streams.