In the decade since I started farming the number of the essential local abattoirs has dropped from five to just one.
Now the last location, like many others in the country, has been prevented from processing pigs.
Clearly the abattoir is a vital element is the livestock business, especially so for the farms that sell meat direct to the public. Unfortunately the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and the Food Standards Agency (FSA) appear to misunderstand the pivotal role of the abattoir. In fact some that lobby for improved food transparenct suspect that Government would prefer if the small business/owner operated facilities quietly went away...
The new National Food Strategy consulation states among its aims 'to ensure that our food system':
- 'Is built upon a resilient, sustainable and humane agriculture sector
- 'Is a thriving contributor to our urban and rural economies, delivering well paid jobs and supporting innovative producers and manufacturers across the country'.
Establishing a farm business that sells direct to consumers is a much more equitable way to trade than selling at commidity prices into the supermarket system. In this model of farming the farmer becomes the retailer, knowing the costs of production and setting the price. As a example I sell my free range pork sausages (97% pork, salt, pepper and a natural skin) at £9.75 per kilo (and they do sell). Compare that with the price of sausages on the shelf in a shop and consider how much the farmer would receive.
What's Happening at my Last Local Abattoir
Pigs are electrically stunned in a small abattoir. The killing process is monitored by an FSA vet and a mandatory CCTV system that was installed in 2019 (both paid for by the abattoir; by me, other farmers and my customers indirectly).
In February 2020 DEFRA insisted that the stunning equipment had to collect data on the current applied to every animal (sheep and pigs). Expense aside, that would be fine except that the equipment required is in such demand that 450 abattoirs across Europe are waiting for the parts. The expected installation date is May this year.
Without notice I can't kill pigs for three months.
The next nearest abattoir is at least a three hour round trip away; to add spice to the journey would involve pulling out over and on to the busy A64 dual carriageway in peak morning traffic. It can take time to identify a gap in a lightweight car, nevermind with a farm truck and trailer. It adds up to a longer journey with added risk for the pigs and all of the additional diesel/vehicle cost and associated emmissions.
I'm not sure why DEFRA and the FSA need a report from the stunning equipment. A skilled slaughterman and the vet should be enough, both have been using the existing process successfully for some time.
It's as if DEFRA and the FSA don't understand the role of the abattoir and it's position in the regional farm economy.
I’ve exchanged emails with the Chief Executive of the Food Standards Agency; that failed to prompt action. I'm trying to get our Member of Parliament involved at Whitehall.
The common sense solution is for the abattoir to get back to work, installing the new kit when its available.