Are small-scale abattoirs the key to sustainable livestock farming?
Pressure is building to make our food system worldwide more sustainable and transparent than ever. With growing concerns over feeding a nation, recently exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis, how to find ways to improve the balance between productivity and sustainability?
In the meat industry, one possible answer, according to recent Sustainable Food Trust (UK) findings, is to increase the number of local abattoirs in the supply chain.
In an article published in part below, Abby Allen of Pipers Farm shares her fears for the future but also defends her fight for small-scale slaughterhouses. You can read the full article by clicking here.
At a time when demand for sustainable, traceable, local food is on the rise, and issues of welfare and health are at the forefront of many consumers’ minds, the loss of more than a third of small abattoirs over the last decade alone is jeopardising the future of local food systems with integrity.
The industrialisation of livestock slaughter has arguably created a rift between nature and farming systems by further removing a farmer from such a key moment in their role of producing food.
Why the loss of small abattoirs is a problem
The decline of small abattoirs is an indicator of a more general shift. Small-scale, traditional livelihoods are rapidly being lost in the face of a globalised food geared towards cutting costs and maximising profit.
To provide truly artisanal, sustainable and ethical food we cannot have an industrial link in any part of the food chain. Low throughput abattoirs, although called the same, provide a totally different service to large-scale, highly geared abattoirs.
Welfare should be of utmost importance at this crucial stage – when an animal’s life is about to end. Yet, animals that may never have left their farm are traveling up to 80 miles or more to be slaughtered. As journeys to slaughter get longer, animals experience the stress and discomfort of traveling long distances and often the largest cause of stress is an extensive wait at the abattoir.
A sustainable local food chain should be built around relationships, trust, and respect for the work carried out by the slaughterman for the farmer. Trust and respect are at the backbone of the service an abattoir provides, their reputation locally depends on it. Ensuring such a crucial part of the process of rearing meat is carried out professionally and that as a farmer you absolutely know you are receiving your own carcasses back is of paramount importance. Working with a local abattoir provides an old-fashioned service, it should not be a not a faceless process hidden behind closed doors.
Highly geared slaughterhouses have only one focus; speed. The quicker they process the more money they make. They have no interest in small numbers, which means if we lose access to small-scale local slaughterhouse there will be nowhere for smallholders to take their livestock to kill. This would see a dramatic shift to our countryside and the communities who live within it. In one fell swoop, we would wipe out the local food chain.
Traditional slaughter methods
Utilising a skilled local abattoir means that we can close the loop in true artisan meat. It means we can hang our carcasses, as they are not washed. Large-scale slaughterhouses use huge amounts of water in the process resulting in poorer quality wet meat that is unsuitable to be hung.
The skill of the slaughterman or slaughterwoman also reduces the stress in the animal which results in meat that is relaxed when it is killed, this ultimately affects the tenderness and texture of the finished product.
Large abattoirs and meat processing plants tend not to cater for rarer breeds or niche cuts of meat. It is also not always possible to get the offal back from large abattoirs which mean not only are we wasting a key source of nutrition but we could be losing food that has been a staple on the table for hundreds of years.
Small abattoirs should definitely be considered, is not a key solution, but an essential element of our local food systems. Small-scale, high-welfare farming, rearing of rare breeds, including organic or pasture-fed, and the success of local food businesses, including direct sales like meat boxes and farm shops, all depend on the services of small, local abattoirs. Small abattoirs are also a great way to bring back the feeling of authenticity and the trust of the consumers.
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