John Sones looks at the future of small abattoirs, plus the trial of a mobile facility
Last year, the Humane Slaughter Association (HSA) held a webinar to highlight the ongoing decline in the network of small to medium-sized, multi-species abattoirs and discussed how a reliable supply of locally-produced meat could be practically achieved while maintaining and improving high standards of animal welfare. Speakers included representatives from the Food Standards Agency, the Abattoir Sector Group (ASG) and the Sustainable Food Trust (SFT).
‘A Good Life and a Good Death’
There is a great need for abattoirs that are close to the farm, to save travelling and thus promote good welfare. Excitingly, there is also news of a mobile abattoir being developed.
In 2020, both the Scottish and UK governments produced reports on abattoirs. Scotland concentrated on the mobile type as there are particular problems with the Highlands and Islands, whereas the UK report by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Animal Welfare (APGAW) entitled ‘The Future For Small Abattoirs In The UK’ was wider, and looked into small red meat abattoir provision generally. Research has also been carried out by the SFT, which produced the report ‘A Good Life and a Good Death’. The report found that the UK’s network of small local abattoirs is near collapse. Many small abattoirs have closed due to ageing buildings, changing legislation and increasing running costs making them no longer viable and the report found that without urgent action there will be a huge loss of consumer choice because the marketing of locally-produced, traceable meat will no longer be possible in many parts of the country.
‘Sustainable, local, collaborate’
In line with the recommendations in the UK report, the Abattoir Sector Group (ASG) has been formed, with the strapline ‘Sustainable, local, collaborate’, with the purpose of advising the government on the future of all types of small abattoirs. The steering group includes members from across the UK, including the SFT, Fir Farm, the Rare Breeds Survival Trust, the Prince’s Countryside Fund, the National Craft Butchers, the Animal Health & Welfare Board England and small abattoir operators based in England, Scotland and Wales. Its remit is wide-ranging and will be looking into aspects including cold storage facilities, mobility, mapping customers, by-products, stunning, and Electronic Identification. By-products, for example skins, are a big issue as the market for them has lost its previous value and so new markets will be sought, though they may include anaerobic digestion and incineration.
A multi-species versatile design
Many considerations in designing a multi-species versatile abattoir include being able to deal with issues from rare breeds, such as cattle with large horns, and ageing stock or those animals with old injuries. Mobile abattoirs enable short travelling distances for stock but a speaker from the Netherlands highlighted problems with the angle of the approach ramp of a lorry based system that they use. Also, it was not ideal as it was designed only for slaughter with the carcass being transported elsewhere for cutting. Other general considerations are dealing with waste, power, water, CCTV and where to site a mobile. Challenges highlighted included bureaucracy, regulation and problems with paperwork from farmers.
A possible future for mobile abattoirs?
Fir Farm near Stow-on-the-Wold in the Cotswolds has taken a risk and ordered a prototype mobile multi-species mobile abattoir from Cogemat in Italy, based on a trailer-mounted container. It is self-contained, driven to the site and then set up by, for example, extending sections out of the sides. Although multi-species, it will be prepared for one type at a time and carry out full processing. Following delivery, several months of testing and collaboration will necessary to get all the necessary approvals before it can be used. The hope is that once it’s up and running it can also be used at other sites. This would require, among other considerations, mapping where customers are located, as to be viable it will need a regular and reliable source of input.
This is pioneering a possible future for mobile abattoirs but there is a long way to go. Funding will be a big issue and although the new Agriculture Act has a provision for government funding, it is not mandatory. Several boxes will need ticking to obtain all the approvals necessary and I am sure many smallholders will pay close attention to how meeting the need for small abattoirs moves forward.
Humane Slaughter Association
Abattoir Sector Group
Sustainable Food Trust
UK government report
Scottish government report