A £4 million Defra fund has launched seeking to boost the sustainability and efficiency of small abattoirs amid fears over a huge decline in numbers.
The Smaller Abattoir Fund will award capital grants from £2,000 up to a maximum of £60,000 to help support smaller abattoirs in England.
The funds can be used to boost productivity, enhance animal welfare, add value to primary products, and encourage innovation in new technologies.
The smaller abattoir sector has an important role in maintaining food security, but numbers have fallen drastically in recent years.
During the period between 2019 and 2021, the sector saw the closure of 14 small, family-run abattoirs.
If closures continued at the current rate, there will be none left open by 2030, according to campaigners at the Sustainable Food Trust.
Announcing the fund, Farming Minister Mark Spencer said: “England’s abattoirs are critical to livestock farmers who provide their high-quality products to local butchers and farm shops up and down the country.
“This fund will not only help smaller abattoir and mobile business owners to innovate, invest and improve standards, but it will give farmers, particularly those who produce native and rare breeds, more stability.”
The fund will also support the purchase of capital investments, including items such as cold storage units which can expand refrigeration capacity for processing.
It can also be used to advance animal health and welfare standards, including funding to improve facilities for stressed or fatigued animals to recover from loading and transport operations.
Megan Perry, head of campaigns at the Sustainable Food Trust, welcomed the fund's launch, calling it 'crucial' to building food systems in the UK.
"There has been a catastrophic decline in small abattoirs, with businesses closing at a rate of 10% per year," she said.
"This has caused havoc for farming and local meat businesses and has resulted in animals travelling increasingly long distances to slaughter.
"If we are to build a truly sustainable and resilient food system here in the UK then we need the infrastructure to support it."
John Mettrick, chair of the Abattoir Sector Group, also welcomed the launch: “This fund has been developed by Defra, the Food Standards Agency, the Abattoir Sector Group and the meat industry working together.
"I would urge abattoir businesses to take advantage of the fund to help develop their businesses for the future.”
The application window for the fund will remain open for nine months and abattoirs will be able to submit up to three applications up to the maximum funding level of £60,000.
The Rural Payments Agency (RPA) will email all eligible smaller abattoirs directly within the coming days, outlining the application process.