Small abattoirs make a vital contribution to both the rural economy and animal welfare, according to a new report published this week.

The report by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Animal Welfare (APGAW) comes as several small abattoirs have closed in recent years, reducing options for slaughter for small-scale farmers and forcing them to use larger processing plants, which may be much further away.

The report stated that there were as many as 30,000 registered abattoirs in the UK in the 1930s - a figure put at just under 250 today.

"Additionally, 15 years ago, there were nine times as many small farms as there are today," the report read.

These contractions have happened at a time when the UK population has increased and so it is likely meat demand has also increased.

"In 2018, a total of 19,718,680 animals were slaughtered across 248 operating plants but 32 abattoirs in England slaughtered 88% all of the sheep, while just 19 abattoirs slaughtered 73% of all cattle."

Lord Trees, co-chairman of the All-Party Group for Animal Welfare which conducted the inquiry, said: “We urge Government to recognise the critical role small abattoirs play in the farming industry and to take immediate action to prevent further closures.

"Small abattoirs support local production of food, benefiting animal welfare with shorter journeys and enabling the return of the product to the farmer, providing food provenance, consumer choice and the opportunity to add value.

"This supports the Government’s agenda to end long-distance transport for animals, tackle climate change, and help livestock farmers, especially in upland areas, to be economically self-sustaining."

The report makes a number of recommendations, including:

  • Recognition of small abattoirs' contributions to the public goods of animal welfare and environmental benefits, and therefore, made eligible for capital payments in any future agricultural support framework.
  • The government should ensure that public bodies and, in particular, economic partnerships or forums see small abattoirs as essential infrastructure supporting the rural economy.
  • Funding waste disposal or re-usage technology within small abattoirs should be included in the Government’s criteria for capital payments under environmental schemes and integrated with initiatives such as the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP).

The group also calls on the government to consider low-capacity abattoirs (processing under 1,000 head of livestock and running alongside other farming and processing activities) to be deemed agricultural buildings with respect to business rates and building control, subject of course to planning conditions necessary for local community protection.

Among those taking part in the inquiry, was Countryside Alliance president The Baroness Mallalieu QC.

Sarah Lee, head of policy at the Countryside Alliance, said: “The Countryside Alliance welcomes this report. We have long campaigned for the small abattoirs to get the recognition they deserve for the crucial role they play in the food supply chain.

"That role will only become more important if a ban on live animal exports is introduced.

We cannot have a situation arise where livestock travel excessively long journeys here in the UK, if small abattoirs cannot be used for processing.

"We will continue to campaign for small abattoirs - a vital and crucial resource for farmers across the country.”

She added: “There is clearly a demand for local produce, but without a network of small abattoirs, UK livestock will still have to travel longer distances.

When the purpose of wanting to end live exports is to reduce distress caused to animals, it seems wrong to ignore the reality we face in this country.

"We may well be in a situation where animals cannot be transported from Dover to Calais but they can be moved from Liverpool to Belfast. This would be illogical. The need for the government to invest in small abattoirs couldn’t be more important.”