Small abattoir closures 'spells disaster' for rural areas, campaigners warn

Rising distances and journey costs have made some family-run abattoirs unviable
Rising distances and journey costs have made some family-run abattoirs unviable

The closure of the only small abattoir in the Yorkshire Dales 'spells disaster' for the rural community, landscape and local food, campaigners have warned.

McIntyre Meats will shut down for good on 27 March after 23 years in business, serving 1,800 customers representing a range of businesses.

The family-run firm, which is located in Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s own constituency in Wensleydale, cited low returns for its reason to close down.

The news follows a spate of small abattoir closures in the past two years, including Tottingworth in East Sussex, Black Brow in Cumbria, Mettrick’s in Derbyshire and, most recently, Long Compton in the Cotswolds.

With each closure, customers are forced to go further afield, putting pressure on remaining small abattoirs trying to accommodate increasing numbers.

Rising distances and journey costs have made some meat businesses unviable. Sheepshare, which supplied communities in Brighton with local meat, has ceased operating following the closure of Tottingworth.

McIntyre Meats already had customers coming from as far as Whitby, a more than two hour journey, due to lack of nearer abattoirs.

McIntyre Meats customer Graham Bottley said the closure of the abattoir would have a significant knock on effect on his small business.

"I use the abattoir to kill my mutton wethers that I supply direct to customers," he said, "The mutton is popular and ships all around the country.

"Without a local abattoir, that element of my business would be far more difficult and I may be forced to stop doing that entirely."

The Sustainable Food Trust said the closure of yet another small abattoir 'spells disaster' for the rural community and farming businesses.

Megan Perry, head of policy at the trust, said: “The loss of local meat supply chains is pushing the UK towards an increasingly centralised, consolidated system, dominated by supermarkets and a few, very large slaughtering and processing operations.

"Animals are being taken on increasingly long journeys, in some cases as many as 200 miles, to be slaughtered. This is bad for animal welfare, bad for the environment and bad for customers who want to buy local meat.

“The closure of small abattoirs is a cross-cutting issue and is incompatible with the government’s public health, environmental and food security agendas.

"Concentrating meat supply into fewer and larger operators could spell disaster.”

Coordinated action involving industry experts, farming groups and abattoir users have in the past launched to find solutions for areas that have lost their abattoir.

The Save Long Compton Campaign in the Cotswolds is one such example where action is being taken.

John Mettrick, chair of the Abattoir Sector Group, said reform of regulations for small abattoirs was important.

He said: "When a business is experiencing low returns, and on top of that, the effects of poorly designed regulation, then it’s not surprising when they decide enough is enough.

"It’s inevitable that due to location and the value of land on some existing abattoir sites that some will close due to the commercial value for housing or other land uses.

"Whilst regulation reform will continue to be a focus, a fund to build new small abattoirs to service the local meat supply chain will be needed in addition to the Smaller Abattoir Fund that can only help existing premises."

Efforts have been made to address problems facing the sector. The government’s recently launched £4m Smaller Abattoir Fund will award grants to help support smaller abattoirs across England.

Defra's Small Abattoir Working Group is also seeking to address regulatory and other issues.