By Rosewood Farm, Aug 16 2017 02:11AM
Welcome news has arrived this week that Michael Gove has announced government plans to make CCTV compulsory in all English abattoirs. Many people are rejoicing at this news after many years of campaigns from by groups such as the British Veterinary Association and Compassion in World Farming, that it will raise animal welfare standards in abattoirs but I’m more than a little concerned.
One thing I’m not concerned about is the way our animals are handled when they are killed. We are lucky to have not one but two small abattoirs that can butcher our livestock without ever leaving the Lower Derwent Valley. The larger of the two, at Escrick, already has CCTV installed that you can see on screens when you walk in but it is a longer journey away from the farm by road as it involves a river crossing. The closer of the two is literally a stone’s throw away from the fields where our animals graze, and the handling of the animals is nothing short of excellent, so I don’t forsee any problem with CCTV being monitored here. In fact the abattoir is so small that you stand more chance of missing any wrong-doing by looking at a screen than you do watching what is happening immediately at the end of your nose.
My worries, however, are not to do with CCTV per se, but the cumulative effect of an increasing regulatory burden on small abattoirs. Our business of rearing beef and lamb from the grasslands of the Yorkshire Ings relies upon local butchers who can handle small numbers of animals. Increased travelling times are not good for the animal, nor are they good for the viability of these grasslands. When slaughtering cattle we have a trip to take the animals, another the next day to collect the offal, a third when we deliver trays and a fourth when we collect the meat after hanging. Moving the abattoir out of the valley therefore has an effect equal to four times the distance away from the farm. As we travel locally anyway to check animals and generally go about our daily lives the added travel is negligible, but the further away the abattoir is, the less viable local food becomes.
The news of a fire at Scotland’s only large scale pig abattoir highlights the problem with having fewer, larger businesses to handle all of our food. The facilities at Brechin were state of the art, newly refurbished for better animal handling and welfare. Unfortunately this was of no advantage when the abattoir closed due to fire damage and the animals instead found themselves travelling an extra 300 miles to the nearest abattoir able to take that number of animals. I’m sure that few animal welfare organisations would say that a journey of 300 miles is a positive thing, but it is being repeated on a smaller and less noticeable scale around the country every time an abattoir closes.
The cost of CCTV is not an insurmountable sum for any business, and even these proposals are more about collection of evidence than additional monitoring but it is an added cost nonetheless. Abattoirs have experienced large but incremental increases in regulation over the years that go largely unnoticed by the public, CCTV is probably the most public-centric of these regulations. Many of the regulations are implemented with sound reasoning behind them and also represent a relatively small costs to the business, but they all play a part in the viability of small businesses.
You may say that if a business’ income is so marginal that a simple piece of legislation is enough to make it unviable then they shouldn’t be in business in the first place. Unfortunately this measure only addresses the financial viability of the service. It’s of little comfort to us as we depend upon the provision of those services in order to continue farming in the valley. The economies of scale would make it even less viable for us to set up our own abattoir on the farm, and we’d still be faced with the same level of regulation as the people who have been slaughtering animals in the village since 1890.
In 1985 Britain had 1000 abattoirs, today that number has been reduced by 4/5ths - a consequence largely of a major increase in the cost of meat hygiene inspections, brought about by EU legislation in the early 1990’s. The cost of setting up a new abattoir remains prohibitively high at £1-1.5 million, placing the future of UK livestock farming in real jeopardy in many parts of the country today. It’s little wonder that those who wish to see the end of livestock farming are celebrating the prospect of increased regulation for abattoirs - it's a clear indication of the threat to our food sovereignty & further degradation of food security.
Many people congratulate us on the work we do at Rosewood, from conservationists keen to encourage rare species of wildlife to animal welfarists seeking to encourage the farming of animals outdoors, but it’s important to remember that without sales of meat, we couldn’t achieve what we do. The importance of our small abattoirs and butchers cannot be overstated - they are as vital to the maintenance of these wildlife rich habitats as we are, and the key to the future of this traditional floodplain landscape.
I do not oppose the principle of animal welfare assurances such as CCTV being installed in abattoirs at all, I merely seek assurance that the added cost and inconvenience will not be borne by the small businesses on which we depend. The good news is that these proposals are open to consultation for six weeks so if you are a farmer, butcher or concerned member of the public interested in animal welfare I urge you to take part and support my calls for these assurances. Let this not become an opportunity for the government to further damage our ability to produce and sell food locally, with the environment at the forefront. The consultation closes on the 21st September 2017 and you can comment on the proposals here.