Scottish farmers facing rural abattoir crisis

29
1249

By a Newsnet reporter

Producers of Scotland’s prime quality beef, lamb and pork are facing a new threat.

A string of devastating closure announcements from those involved in the next stage of the supply chain, the abattoir companies, have caused turmoil across the red-meat sector.

By a Newsnet reporter

Producers of Scotland’s prime quality beef, lamb and pork are facing a new threat.

A string of devastating closure announcements from those involved in the next stage of the supply chain, the abattoir companies, have caused turmoil across the red-meat sector.

The thriving direct-to-the-public sales businesses built up over recent years by sheep, cattle and pig farmers, including many operating on a smaller scale, now face significant trading and financial uncertainty as rural abattoirs are closed down.

Livestock farmers, from Orkney to the Borders, now face impossibly long journeys to have their stock humanely slaughtered.  Long journeys can be bad for animal welfare and with the cost of diesel in rural Scotland at almost £1.50 per litre, for many farmers the arguments and the sums do not stack up.

Newsnet Scotland spoke to two farmers in the Borders, to hear how their businesses have coped since the closure, in late 2011, of their local abattoir in Galashiels.

Ross Montague, who runs a small flock of sheep in Lauderdale explained how he was no longer able to direct sell his lambs to consumers: “Until last August, a growing part of our sheep business involved selling freezer box lambs.  To do this we used the abattoir at Galashiels for the killing and preparation.”

“We are now faced with a journey to Shotts or Paisley to the abattoirs there.  We cannot afford to make that journey with a few lambs per week. We have been forced to go back to selling our lambs at auction and have lost the ability to add value to our produce.  We are a young couple trying to get our own farming business established and this is now made even more difficult.”

Another Borders farmer, who did not wish to be named, explained the difficulties facing her business: “We now have to take stock almost 80 miles into England to be slaughtered.  We direct sell meat under our own brand. Frustratingly we can no longer label our meat as ‘Scotch’ as we do not have a Scottish abattoir that we can use.”

Newsnet Scotland has heard how, as with many problems in the food chain, the problems faced by Scotland’s abattoirs have been exacerbated by the big supermarkets.

Scotland’s high street butcher shops have long been recognised as a casualty of the supermarkets success. With the decline in butchers’ shops has come a decline in the need for small town and rural abattoirs.  Supermarket economies of scale have lead to the concentration of slaughtering facilities into a handful of ever larger abattoirs. 

These mega-abattoirs are often owned by the supermarkets themselves who think nothing of trucking livestock from Aberdeenshire to Wales to be slaughtered before sending the meat back to their Scottish stores.

Over the past 10 or so years, the consumer drive for local food gave rise to the farmers’ market phenomenon.  This coupled with the growth in internet mail-order meat and a renaissance in the remaining quality butchers shops, has also given a boost to livestock producers who in turn have relied on local abattoirs. 

Sadly, the boost has not been big enough.  It seems that economies of scale are the order of the day and killing a few animals for farmer’s markets and the dwindling number of high street butchers has not been enough to keep many smaller abattoirs open.

The abattoir on Islay, which was opened in 2008 to help farmers on the island tap into the direct sales market, has recently found itself in difficulty and this week saw the brand-new, state of the art abattoir in Wick – which was to be instrumental in developing a Caithness meat brand – being placed in administration.  Administrators RSM Tenon cite intense competition from existing large scale abattoirs and rising operating costs as the reasons behind the sale of the plant.

In March this year dozens of jobs were lost when the abattoir on Orkney was closed.  A last minute intervention by the local council, and Cabinet Secretary Richard Lochead, may have saved the facility for use by Orcadian farmers but this is as yet uncertain.