A total of 34 British agri-food organisations have joined forces to urge Defra’s Secretary of State, Michael Gove to take urgent action to save the UK’s network of smaller abattoirs.

The group – which goes under the name ‘Campaign for Local Abattoirs’ – says small abattoirs are closing at an “alarming rate” in the country.

In the letter, they point out that the existence of a network of smaller abattoirs enables thousands of family farmers to supply meat and other livestock products to customers and represents a huge national asset.

The Government has indicated that it prefers farm animals to be slaughtered close to the place of production, yet statistics show that the opposite is happening.

A third of small abattoirs have closed in the past 10 years and closures are continuing.

10% closed in 12 months

A further 6 – 10% of small abattoirs – have closed in the last 12 months. The latest, Bakers of Nailsea, had been serving farmers and butchers in Somerset for 120 years but closed its door for the final time last month.

Patrick Holden, chief executive of the Sustainable Food Trust, said: “The sale of locally-produced meat helps to keep many family farmers in business and has huge benefits for consumers and the environment.

For the first time in my farming lifetime, Defra is genuinely striving to develop a more sustainable food system with additional focus on animal welfare but that could come unstuck if we lose more local abattoirs.

“Without local slaughtering, there will be no traceable local meat – it’s as simple as that.”

‘A perfect storm of problems’

John Mettrick, chairman of National Craft Butchers and owner of a small abattoir in Derbyshire, said: “We have hit a perfect storm of problems: Increased costs; rock-bottom prices for hides and skins; some gold-plated regulations; and excessive paperwork – much of it involving unnecessary duplication.”

Michael Gove has acknowledged the problem facing producers and retailers who lose their local abattoir.

The signatories of the joint letter now want him to take urgent action, which could include setting up a group to advise on how to best ensure their continued survival.

The Campaign for Local Abattoirs, which coordinated the joint letter, was established by the Sustainable Food Trust and National Craft Butchers to highlight the current crisis in the supply of local meat.

Its members include the National Trust, RSPCA, Scottish Crofting Federation, Women’s Institute and the National Sheep Association.