The group includes representatives from the National Trust, RSPCA, Scottish Crofting Federation, the Women’s Institute and the National Sheep Association.
In the letter they said “the existence of a network of smaller abattoirs enabling thousands of family farmers to supply meat and other livestock products to a growing number of customers, either directly or via retail and catering outlets, represents a huge national asset”.
The Campaign for Local Abattoirs, which coordinated the joint letter, was established by the Sustainable Food Trust and National Craft Butchers to highlight the current crisis in the supply of local meat.
In Defra’s consultation in May of this year, the government said it prefers farm animals to be slaughtered close to the place of production, yet statistics suggest the opposite is happening.
A third of small abattoirs have closed in the past 10 years and six (10%) of small abattoirs have closed in the last 12 months with the latest, Bakers of Nailsea, which has been serving farmers and butchers in Somerset for 120 years, closing in July.
A plan of action was put forward in the letter, suggesting that all farmers producing meat for local markets have access to adequate slaughtering facilities within economically viable distances. It proposed that the government explored the barriers to the survival of local abattoirs. It also asked for the establishment of a working party to advise on how to achieve these objectives.
Patrick Holden, chief executive of the Sustainable Food Trust, said: “The sale of locally-produced meat helps to keep many family farmers in business and has huge benefits for consumers and the environment. For the first time in my farming lifetime, Defra is genuinely striving to develop a more sustainable food system with additional focus on animal welfare.
“But that could come unstuck if we lose more local abattoirs. Without local slaughtering there will be no traceable local meat, it’s as simple as that.”
John Mettrick, chairman of National Craft Butchers and owner of a small abattoir in Derbyshire, added: “We have hit a perfect storm of problems: increased costs, rock bottom prices for hides and skins, some gold-plated regulations, and excessive paperwork, much of it involving unnecessary duplication.”