A recent survey of more than 1,300 UK farming and food businesses found that 88% of respondents consider local abattoirs a vital service that is essential to the success of their business.

The respondents highlighted the importance of local abattoirs to their businesses, with one stating that a major part of their local livestock sales would “disappear” without one.

The survey, conducted by the Sustainable Food Trust and National Craft Butchers, also found that 64% of respondents feel the availability, or lack of availability, of a local abattoir impacts their future business plans.

With the loss of small abattoirs standing at a rate of 10% per year, customers say they are now reliant on a handful of remaining operators. According to the Sustainable Food Trust this creates a “fragile system that is vulnerable to collapse”.

Journey times to abattoirs have increased significantly, with some animals now travelling more than 200 miles to slaughter.

Survey respondents also reported that many remaining smaller abattoirs are increasingly busy and difficult to book into.

Head of policy and campaigns at the Sustainable Food Trust, Megan Perry, said the survey highlights that a “diverse network” of abattoirs throughout the UK is vital for farms of all sizes and to the viability of local meat businesses.

“We welcomed the government’s announcement of funding for the sector, earlier this year.

“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 (the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’) Small Abattoir Working Group in progressing solutions to these issues,” Perry said.

The future

The survey showed that farmers and food businesses are keen to find solutions to the current issues relating to small and local abattoirs.

81% expressed an interest in mobile abattoirs, with 73% saying they would pay more for this service. 64% also said they would be interested in cooperative-owned abattoirs.

The Sustainable Food Trust said the businesses were also interested in doing more with their products, as 33% said they would collect the hides and skins if they had access to further processing facilities.

However, to revitalise the sector, the government needs a multi-pronged approach to address the problems that are leading to the closures of small abattoirs, the survey conductors said.

The managing director of National Craft Butchers, Eleanor O’Brien, said: “Alongside funding, the government needs to implement flexibilities that already exist within regulation specifically including the 5% rule, that will help smaller abattoirs to increase productivity, expand and thrive.

“Without this twofold approach, the small abattoir sector will continue to stagnate, with severe consequences for farmers, animal welfare and supply chain diversity and resilience.”