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Tuesday, 25 February 2014

A view to a (local) Kill

There is an increasing demand for Organic, and above all, Local food and this is reflected as much in meat as vegetables. South Wales has many small farmers, often raising older breeds and those particularly suited to small scale agriculture and the terrain.

So there should not be a supply problem.

But there is.

To convert this


to this
requires an intermediary, an abattoir that can process small numbers of animals and that has Organic Certification where needed.

Until recently Ensor's in the Forest of Dean provided that service to small farmers from a wide area in both Wales and the West of England, however financial difficulties led to a takeover by Foyle Meats. Foyle are suppliers to large outlets and Supermarket chains, processing over 260,000 animals a year and pulled out of the small Private Kill market.

This causes a problem for the small farmer who might have only a couple of animals a month (or less) to process. One farmer was advised that he should make a 95 mile journey to slaughter. This would have meant 190 miles of diesel and the same amount to collect the carcass a week later not to mention about 12 hours time. The cost would be totally prohibitive on a small herd. Another has put production on hold whilst they consider the future as their sheep are suited to the terrain but smaller than the usual commercial breeds.

If the farmers are having problems the butchery trade and consumers will have problems down the line.

Fortunately the problem has been recognised by Aberystwyth University Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS) who called a meeting of producers and abattoir owners, in Abergavenny, to discuss Private Kill in the Usk Valley. The meeting was attended by people on either side of the Wales England border as Ensor's had served communities in both countries.

Under the auspices of the Better Organic Business Links project (BOBL) and the Soil Association the meeting set out to demonstrate that there was a way forward.



On the evening some 10 small producers and 4 abattoirs, including two who were also had butcher's shops, were represented and heard about the current market situation for both Organic and Local meats and the possibilities of increasing market share.
Phil Skentelbery of the Soil Association spoke of the better margin on Organic meat and the costs of Soil Association accreditation for abattoir owners. Some commented that it was cheaper than anticipated and also less bureaucratic than they feared.
Effectively, Phil said, once certification was achieved the Organic kill needed to take place first thing of the day or last after a complete clean down. The abattoir would not necessarily have to gain its own certification if the producer had it as they could upgrade their own to include kill. This would mean that the abattoir could only kill and do initial cutting, all subsequent cutting and processing would need to be undertaken by the producer.
There was some interest in this shown by the abattoir owners and also by the producers in co-operating on transport to reduce costs and ensure that the abattoir owners had a secure throughput. There was also interest in  Community Supported Agriculture, a model which gives better security to producers whilst linking consumers direct to the product and allowing an educative process as well.
As a start, the meeting produced some good ideas and it was agreed that a further one should be held in a few weeks.
As a consumer I hope that it will prove possible to secure local kill for producers. We need locally produced and processed meat, as a farmer in Ireland with his own abbatoir pointed out to me local kill mean less stressed animals, less stress means less adrenaline, and less adrenaline means better quality meat.

We need small farms to survive otherwise we will be left with huge agri-business and animals that have never seen grass being fed cereals in huge stockyards and barns. On a wider scale the very landscape would change without a vibrant small farm sector. Locality is what will keep small farms going and our meat quality high.

Though we need farmers and small abattoir operators to co-operate we all have a part to play by buying locally from butchers and farmers

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Morphy Richards
The Real Bread Campaign