Comments by Michael Gove on the future of Britain's small abattoirs have been welcomed by campaigners as an 'encouraging indication' for their much-needed revival.
There are now only 56 small red meat abattoirs left in the UK, with a third having closed between 2007 and 2017 and a further seven closing in 2018.
Campaigners say local abattoirs ensure traceable meat production and multiple public goods associated with local food.
Defra Secretary Michael Gove told the EFRA Select Committee on Wednesday (27 March) on the future for small abattoirs that direct intervention to help small abattoirs is under 'active consideration'.
“A number of people have made [a] strong and articulate case for the survival of smaller abattoirs and one of the things we are looking at is whether or not there should be direct intervention in order to help smaller abattoirs survive, that is something under active consideration at the moment,” he said.
The Sustainable Food Trust (SFT) and National Craft Butchers (NCB), which jointly set up the Campaign for Local Abattoirs, have welcomed the comments.
Richard Young, SFT policy director, said: “This is a very encouraging indication that the Secretary of State has been listening to our concerns and we hope the government will see this through before more small abattoirs have to close.
“Every time another small abattoir is forced out of business it has major impacts for the farmers who used that abattoir.”
Many farmers, especially those in environmental stewardship and agri-environment schemes, depend on being able to market the meat from their animals locally.
For them, the availability of a local abattoir is seen as essential. Where these close, live animals and meat have to travel further, and it becomes uneconomical for some farmers to continue marketing their own meat.
John Mettrick, NCB’s President, said: “We have seen seven small abattoirs close within the last year and more closures will follow if help is not forthcoming. The amounts needed to save the industry are extremely small in comparison with the amounts made available to agriculture generally.”
“The current climate it is very difficult for them to make ends meet. Since it costs about £1 million to set up a small abattoir from scratch it will be far more cost-effective to save existing abattoirs than be forced to build new ones in future.”
Earlier this year, campaigners called for local abattoirs to be recognised as a public good as they are the 'linchpins' of the UK's food systems.