Publication - Research and analysis

Mobile abattoirs - viability and sustainability: report

Published: 12 Mar 2020
From:
Director-General Economy
Directorate:
Environment and Forestry Directorate
Part of:
Farming and rural
ISBN:
9781839606076

The findings of a study carried out to determine whether or not mobile slaughter units (MSUs) would be viable in Scotland.

133 page PDF

1.6 MB

133 page PDF

1.6 MB

Contents
Mobile abattoirs - viability and sustainability: report
Appendix 3: Stakeholder Engagement Data - Butchers, Abattoirs and Wholesalers

133 page PDF

1.6 MB

Appendix 3: Stakeholder Engagement Data - Butchers, Abattoirs and Wholesalers

Engagement With Butchers And The SFMTA

Overview

The Scottish Federation of Meat Traders Association (SFMTA), otherwise known as “Scottish Craft Butchers” represents butchers (including those associated with abattoirs) in Scotland and has approximately 400 members. Following a meeting with the organisation in Perth a news article on this feasibility study was written and sent to members in July 2019, to raise awareness of the project. This was emailed to members, published on the website and issues as a hard copy. Followig this, an online survey was later emailed to all members.

There were 23 responses to the survey, with the annonymised results provided a summary of the key questions is provided below. It should be noted that the majority of respondents were positive about the introduction of an MSU in Scotland.

Survey Responses

Q3 Do you believe that there would be customer demand for locally sourced, traceable meat arising from the mobile abattoir?
Q3 Do you believe that there would be customer demand for locally sourced, traceable meat arising from the mobile abattoir?

In addition to the above answers, respondents were able to comment on this question, with a total of 17 of the 23 doing so. The viewpoints, positive and negative, are provided below verbatim:

  • We are constantly looking to be more transparent in the traceability of our products. A mobile abattoir would provide this.
  • Less food miles. Much less stress for the animals. Cost implications. Satisfying a great local need.
  • All my customers are concerned about animal welfare and the current situation is terrible.
  • There are only a few small abattoirs in Scotland that can cater for butchers contract kill, with the larger processor abattoirs NOT interested in supplying a slaughter service to the butchers trade.
  • Nice idea but impractical, re chilling and physically handling carcase.
  • The most simple and cost effective solution is to provide dispensations to the absurd level of regulation applied to abattoirs, whether they're killing a beast a month or a minute.
  • Yes ... but it is a only a possible solution for more outlying remote areas. More new small regional abattoirs are crucially needed.
  • Facilities already in place that need support from Scottish Gov
Q4 Do you think mobile abattiors have the potentail to provide farmers and butchers with a value added service, by providing private kill and traceable meat products?
Q4 Do you think mobile abattiors have the potentail to provide farmers and butchers with a value added service, by providing private kill and traceable meat products?

Summary of feedback, from 7 respondents, shown below:

  • From feedback, farmers would rather dispatch of their beef cattle on their own farms rather than using abattoirs or selling at market. Both of which are stressful for the animals and upsetting for the owners to watch.
  • My stock travel 120 miles to the nearest slaughterhouse.
  • Do normal abattoirs not do that already?
  • But it is very hard to achieve any level of efficiency with mobile abattoirs - i.e. kill costs will always be prohibitively high
Q5 Please indicate below if you would be interested in finding out more about any of the join-working/collaborations below for a future mobile abattoir service
Q5 Please indicate below if you would be interested in finding out more about any of the join-working/collaborations below for a future mobile abattoir service

It should be noted that only 11 of the 23 respondents answered this question, which would appear to indicate that the remaining 12 respondents would not be interested in further information. Three respondents opted to leave a comment – the three comments were very positive.

Q6 Would you have any concerns that a mobile abattoir may have a potential impact on the viability of your current business
Q6 Would you have any concerns that a mobile abattoir may have a potential impact on the viability of your current business

Respondents were given the option of providing additional comments regarding the viability and sustainability of a mobile abattoir operating within Scotland. 15 of the respondents provided a comment, these are provided below:

  • I think it should be self financing and not be subsidies or be given 'grace' on inspection charges. It must be given the same charging system as rural abattoirs
  • As stated above. located in areas further away form existing Abattoirs.
  • Any mobile abattoir would need to have capacity to hang beef and deliver to shops
  • The decline in the offering of a 'private kill' service in Scotland is on an alarming downward trend. This needs reversed. Money would be better spent supporting micro static systems rather than the significant additional costs of a mobile unit and its docking stations etc.
  • My impression of a mobile abattoir is what we see online from the States where a beast is shot with a rifle then the carcass is prepared outdoors on a hoist at the back of a vehicle. Rarely does it give a good impression.
  • I think the abattoirs that are left do a great job but find it hard enough to keep going without cutting there throughput with introducing mobile “ pop up “ ones
  • Having looked into this and spoken to Canadian operators I cannot see how mobile abattoirs are the solution to the drastic shortage of kill options in Scotland. They are not easy to work in - too many compromises resulting from the mobile aspect, no chill facilities and slow throughput. I feel (Government) support for established small regional abattoirs is essential and seriously lacking at present.
  • Like all businesses I would be concerned if there's enough footfall for this service
  • As long as mobile abattoirs are keeping high welfare standards for our livestock, and less stress for the animals in their final moments, I think it’s a fantastic idea and one I can see being very favourable. I would much rather my beef cattle were dispatched quickly at home, than being transported to a stressful environment. Better welfare, happier animals, better beef!
  • My business is on the border and my nearest abattoir is at Durham, a mobile unit has to be better than the current situation
  • I would very much appreciate discussing this further as we would be the type of business that would suffer because of this.
  • Current abattoirs are either getting more and more industrial or closing altogether leaving a big gap for smaller businesses and farmers.
  • whats the prices of killing
  • Mobile abattoirs could be good for northern out reaches, but down in the southern lands it would not be a good idea and could have a detrimental effect on our current abattoir
  • Would be very desirable from a carbon footprint angle

It should be noted when reviewing the results and comments that some of the butchers responding to the survey also had links to abattoirs.

Direct Engagement Results

In addition to the previous survey of butchers a summary of a meeting and telephone discussions is provided in the table below.

Table 22. Summary of Butcher Engagements
Abattoir Comments
Scott Brothers, Dundee Provenance is important and for butcher shops this is a growing business opportunity, with increasing numbers of customers looking for this.

The bigger abattoirs are increasingly tied in to the supermarkets making local/private kill increasingly difficult.

Supportive of MSUs – the more it is considered, the more it makes sense.
S.A. Mackie Butchers, Aberlour Has looked at the potential for setting up an MSU, with a site visit to Finland to inform this. Considered/considering AN MSU with a small chill, taking the carcases to the main chiller – considering this at the farm.

Also a sheep farmer, as well as a butcher. Would be interested in private kill for wholesale plus own retail sales.

Local farmers are described as being supportive.

Conversation with SEPA was negative with waste indicated as being very difficult to control.

Engagement With Abattoirs And Trade Bodies

Overview

The Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers (SAMW) facilitated engagement with its 20 members (abattoirs and wholesalers – membership does not include the island abattoirs, Downfield and Hardiesmill). A meeting with SAMW Council members took place in September 2019 and feedback from a number of abattoir operators was provided at this. In addition, SAMW emailed the link to an on-line survey asking for views about the potential of MSUs.

Individual, direct engagement (meeting/calls) took place with the following operators:

  • Hardiesmill Abattoir
  • Mull Abattoir
  • Munro’s, Dingwall
  • ABP Perth
  • Scottish Island Abattoirs Association

Contact was also made with Downfield Abattoir, however no response was obtained at the time of compiling the draft report.

A summary of the survey results and discussions is provided in the following sections.

Survey Responses

Only three out of twenty SAMW members completed the online survey, with another abattoir contributing in a telephone conversation (i.e. feedback provided by four in total). Because of the small numbers the results for the responses from these abattoirs are shown most easily in a summary table.

Table 23. Summary of online survey responses from SAMW members (abattoir operators)
ID Questions Answers
Yes No
A Is your facility operating at or near full capacity? 0 3
B Does your abattoir offer private kill? 3 0
C If you do not offer private kill would you be interested in doing so in the future? (ignore if not applicable) N/A N/A
D Does your abattoir hold organic certification? 1 2
E If you do not offer an organic service would you be interested in doing so in the future? (ignore if not applicable)* 3 0
F What is your overall view on the potential value of a mobile abattoir service targeting specific parts of Scotland in the future?** Neutral - 2 Negative - 1
G Do you believe that a mobile abattoir service would significantly impact on your business? 0 3
H Would you be interested in exploring potential opportunities concerning collaboration or co-location of a mobile abattoir, at your abattoir (to support private kill as an example)? 1 2

The following comments were made by the abattoir operators as a follow-up to their responses provided above.

  • Queston E: It should be noted that the two abattoirs that do not currently hold organic certification, indicated that they would be interested in doing so in the future if there was a demand.
  • Question F: Two comments providedby the operators:
    • As such a service is available in other countries it appears possible to do so in Scotland however as the regulatory cost burden that all meat processors are obliged to pay is significant and unique to the meat sector, in my view is not financially viable with a large element of public subsidy.
    • I believe it would need to be heavily subsidized
  • Question G: Two operators provided comments on this question:
    • Every animal killed in a mobile abattoir is one less killed in a static facility, seriously undermining the viability of the few remaining plants. Our location (name removed) is a prime example. HOWEVER, if WE operated a mobile abattoir one day a week/fortnight, using our staff and by-products disposal facility, then there would be positive benefits.
    • Number of stock "lost" would be minimal.

Direct Engagement Results

The table below provides a summary of the direct engagement with SAMW members and other abattoir operators.

Table 24. Summary of direct engagement with abattoir operators
Abattoir Comments
SAMW SAMW commented that there was felt to be limited interest amongst members in setting up a mobile abattoir due to concerns about economic viability and farmer loyalty. It was mentioned that the majority of members were investing in current sites, rather than setting up satelite operations. Private kill was identified as a signficant issue for SAMW members, however the organisation does not feel that MSUs are the solution. SAMW would prefer to see an organisation (possibly a mart or organisation with a passion for local food) established. The organisation would co-ordinate local farmers to enable animals to be bulked up for on-ward processing at the abattoir. The meat could then be re-distributed back to farmers. It was also stated at the meeting that abattoirs could offer a private kill service if it was required.

In addition, SAMW would like to see research on consumer demand, is there a sufficient demand for premium meat, and if there is, how much more are customers willing to pay? Would this premium cover the additional costs of the mobile abattoir or would it be reliant upon state subsidies[36].

At the September Council meeting it was confirmed by those attending (7 operators) that MSUs were not considered to represent a threat to their businesses.
Scottish Islands Abattoirs Association Supportive of MSUs, but not to the detriment of small abattoirs, for example, as operating on islands, not so much concerned about MSUs taking away business, but more concerned about subsidies going to MSUs.

Would like to see the Scottish Government view both small abattoirs and MSUs in terms of the local services they can provide.

Getting the right operating model is key e.g. private, co-operative, etc.

Believe that farmers need an “affordable service”; the challenge will be how to make the MSU affordable with its lower throughput.

A potential issue of de-boning meat was raised, plus the value of meat (due to imported vacuum packed meat).
Hardiesmill Micro-Abattoir Providers of top-end beef (institute of masters of beef) and can charge a premium price for their product, which helps to cover the costs of running a micro-abattoir. Very aware of quality and consistency, and welfare was a top concern.

Considered an MSU approximately 5 years ago, but ruled it out due to the following reasons:

Significant costs (they were quoted 6million Euros). Political landscape was not supportive.

Roads/access to farm.

Previously had to consult with 11 statutory bodies - decided to simplify things and look at a micro-abattoir approximately 4.5 years ago - became fully licensed in December 2018. First on-farm micro abattoir for cattle in 25 years.

Gravity and height are big issues that need to be overcome for MSUs

Regulatory bodies very helpful, however very time-consuming.
Munro’s of Dingwall Any business that takes animals away from their business could be considered a threat. They provide service covering a 100 mile radius, and centralised facilities, with the infrastructure already in place are an efficient set up.

Cutting services in an MSU won’t be possible because of the hanging requirements

Although a centralised facility can provide the required service, it is understood that animal welfare (haulage distance) concerns can be better met by MSUs. They would be interested in operating such units, if this was to prove to be the way forward for more rural communities.

Private kill is offered, with meat going back to butchers in Fort William, Inverness etc.

The docking station idea is a good one., and using marts in particular makes sense – lairage and animal handling skills in place.

Chill facilities at their site are usually full, and chill capacity/requirements would need to be understood.

Waste is expensive to manage – believe that the unit would need to bring this back to the abattoir, where it would be consolidated with other waste for an effective cost per tonne (cost information provided).

Estate deer larders – could providing collaborative opportunities? (with cutting plant and chill facilities).
ABP Perth MSUs not viewed as a threat to the business.

Fish processing facilities, located in many rural locations – could these provide a collaborative opportunity?

May be value in considering how mobile units could work in collaboration with existing abattoirs, e.g. rather than the mobile unit doing the kill, they could be small, regigerated vehicles providing a haulage service for carcases or primary/retail cuts. This could address some of the OV requirements and associated costs.

Is there potential for MSUs to have synergies with island abattoirs?

The company does provide private kill, but it is not advertised and poses logistical challenges.

Manning an MSU could be a challenge, asking people to be away from home for a number of days at a time.
Mull Abattoir Not supportive of MSUs, principally because of the potential they have to take business away from island abattoirs, such as Mull’s

There are also concerns about any future public subsidies being paid to support the development of MSU infrastructure, rather than small/micro abattoirs, which are in great need of support.
Shetland Abattoir The Shetland abattoir is run as a co-operative. Shetland charge £12 to slaughter a sheep, however private facilities are significantly more expensive. Provided a link to a benchmarking report for the Island abattoirs, which has been reviewed and will be referenced in the final report.

A key market for is a niche French restaurant in Edinburgh who was looking for their rare breed in a recipe. Great selling point for both the restaurant and farmer.

Engagement With Other Stakeholders

The following table summarises the results of engagement with a range of other organisations, operating with relevant, but different objectives and aspirations in terms of the scope of work of this project.

Table 25. Stakeholder engagement summary
Organisation Comments
Trade And Sector Organisations
British Meat Products Association Considered an interesting idea, however, would be difficult to compete commercially with the large companies that are processing 7,500 cattle per week, 60,000 sheep per week etc. The large abattoirs are looking for big production runs, however they are not set up for private kill and this could be a niche for the MSU.

Due to the low volumes, more waste may actually be generated – if there are only 3 or 4 hides, they would be uneconomical to transport, and therefore an MSU may have fewer opportunities for generating additional income.

Managing the 5th quarter economically will be tricky.

“Docking stations” seen as a positive, because of the shared infrastructure/ vets - plus higher throughput if farmers coming to the MSU.

Believe it will be more economical if only looking at cattle and sheep. Pigs could present an issue, would require hot water for scalding at a constant 60 degrees. Could hand-scrape pigs, if there was someone with the skills.

The “average” farmer would not be able to cope with a quarter of beef (as an example); likewise, removing the shoulders from sheep is not easy. Would need to have butchers involved in some form.

Raised the potential of having a butcher shop at the MSU to provide farmers with the option to brand their meat as a co-operative, rather than individually.

Thought that there would be a demand in Scotland for high premium meat.

Not aware of any members exploring the option of an MSU.
Humane Slaughter Association Recently presented to the “St George’s house consultation” which looked at on-farm and local slaughter provision. Presented “against” mobile abattoirs not because unsupportive of them, but due to the economics[37].

Loyalty and commitment are key to establishing a viable MSU.

Food provenance is a key issue, difficult to achieve with large abattoirs.

There is an assumption that smaller is better for animal welfare, however this is not necessarily the case.

Approximately 130 abattoirs in the UK, technically, capacity exceeds demand. However, aware of the impacts of seasonality impacting on capacity, which may support an MSU.

Based on professional experience, “four docking units within 100 miles, with a group of farmers that are loyal and committed”, with meat transported to a central facility for processing, could be the most viable option.
Scottish Agricultural Organisation Society (SAOS) Supportive of the project and interested in sharing data.
Institute of Auctioneers and Appraisers in Scotland Several attempts at contacting this organisation were made – no response.
The Princes Countryside Trust The Trust was contacted with the aim of understanding the findings of their work looking into island abattoirs. A July meeting presenting the findings of their work, attended by Scottish Government, with feedback provided afterwards. Report published, with reference to MSUs in one paragraph, expressing concern about their potential impact on island abattoirs.
Nourish Scotland Discussion about animals being sent to England – there is a significant economic case to be addressed.

Co-location sound good.

There is a demand for local (provenance known) meat sales, but this is not quantified other than individual company sales.

A co-ordinated marketing approach is needed to encourage local meat sales, hence private kill to deliver this.

Pointed to the report: “The Future Demand for Smallholdings in Scotland – An Assessment).
Department of Animal Environment and Health,

Swedish University of Agricultural Science
The department had recently conducted research into animal welfare and meat quality based on the slaughter of over 300 animals at the Halsingestintan MSU and a static abattoir within Sweden (the formal research papers are currently being written up, however there is a summary paper available)[38]. The researcher outlined that the key findings were:

The use of “permanent installations” e.g. docking stations are useful for ensuring calm animals. Several farms visited by the MSU were being visited by the MSU for the first time and the infrastructure was temporary and not necessarily appropriate. Layout, driveways, etc are essential in keeping animal stress levels low.

The animal handling/ movement was better by trained abattoir staff, rather than farmers (who were typically responsible for getting their animals to the MSU). It was noted that the farmers had received no training in how to move an animal and that this is possibly better done by trained personnel. However, transport to the static abattoir was not covered by the research, and this is likely to have had a significant impact on cattle slaughtered at the static abattoir that has not been measured.

Overall, the time from stunning to sticking was longer at the MSU than at the static abattoir, which may be explained by inappropriate stun box design and difficulties to shackle stunned animals rapidly enough.

Ten percent of the animals were reshot at the MSU, which was higher than the static abattoir. Again, changes to the layout of the MSU may have helped to lower this.

In terms of meat quality, the research looked at colour, pH, tenderness and water-loss. Overall the meat was more tender from the MSU, however this is believed to have been due to the MSU utilising an alternative form of hanging (animals hung from pelvic bones). The MSU adopted this form of hanging because it is known to produce very tender meat. Therefore, difficult to identify whether the changes to the slaughter process had an impact on meat quality.

Based on the research to date, it cannot be concluded that animal welfare or meat quality is generally better with one or other way of slaughtering.

The researcher indicated that the MSU operator had been very interested in exploring novel, high value outlets for their 5th quarter products e.g. medicines, pharmaceuticals, etc.

Contact

Email: socialresearch@gov.scot