With the closure of abattoir facilities in rural areas in Scotland such as Orkney, Elgin and Dunblane, many animals are now having to travel further to be slaughtered and returned for processing in local businesses (butchers) than before. There are concerns that this is leading to increased stress to animals, greater environmental impacts and decreased profitability for farmers.
Whilst there are no perceived issues with overall slaughtering capacity in Scotland, these closures could have many impacts on local areas particularly for producer-retailers wanting to sell meat locally, from animals they have reared or that have been reared locally.
For producer-retailers in some parts of the country, the abattoir closures are already causing logistical, animal welfare (longer journeys to slaughter), environmental (e.g. air pollution in relation to longer journeys) and financial problems.
Not all abattoirs undertake “private kill” that is killing animals for individual producers and returning the carcases to them. Some are either unable or unwilling to slaughter animals for small producer-retailers and return carcases to them economically; while others do not have some certification e.g. organic so are not suitable for organic animals. Those that offer private kill, tend to be the smaller abattoirs. However, the lack of small-scale regional abattoirs across Scotland has led to calls from the industry to assess whether or not mobile abattoirs could potentially go some way in addressing the lack of local slaughter provision in many rural and remote areas of Scotland.
Mobile abattoirs do not currently operate in Scotland or the rest of the UK, however according to the EU regulation on the hygiene of foodstuffs (EC) No 853/2004, mobile slaughter units (MSUs) are approved for a range of animals. While two mobile abattoirs were tried in the UK in the 90s, neither lasted very long as commercial operations, due to infrastructure and inspection costs. A small producer group led by Fir Farm in Gloucestershire is currently looking at the practicalities, regulations and financial viability of establishing a mobile abattoir to operate in the North Cotswolds. Twenty-four licensed red meat abattoirs operated in Scotland during 2017 (becoming 21 in 2019) and it is estimated that that total turnover of the primary processing sector in Scotland during this period was £892 million. The five largest abattoirs in Scotland account for the majority of slaughtering capacity, processing 70% of cattle, 90% of sheep and 95% of pigs. By comparison the equivalent proportion in the five smallest abattoirs is cattle 0.6%, sheep 0.6%, and pigs 0.4%.
The numbers of cattle, sheep and pigs processed in 2017 were all down from previous years which is leading to pressure across the entire sector to continue operating efficiently at full capacity. Any significant changes to current processing supply chains could have adverse effects should they not be able to fulfil orders.
However, while mobile abattoirs could potentially go some way in addressing the lack of local slaughter provision in many rural and remote areas of Scotland, consideration also needs to be given to the impact mobile abattoirs could have on the viability of existing processing facilities and supply chains, particularly more vulnerable smaller operations.
1.2 Aims and Objectives
This study aims to determine whether or not mobile abattoirs would be viable in Scotland by providing detailed research of all aspects of what would be required, including the impact mobile abattoirs would have on the viability of existing processing facilities and supply chains. By slaughtering more animals in Scotland, and therefore closer to their place of production, benefits could be gained in the form of lower transport costs and transport carbon emissions, while also maximising economic and social benefits to rural communities across Scotland and increased animal welfare.
The main objectives for this research were to:
- Review business models in other countries where mobile abattoirs exist to understand how they operate, how they are financed, when and why they were established, their processing capacity, regulatory environment in which they operate and impact they have on other existing abattoirs and supply chains in these countries.
- Investigate cases where mobile abattoirs have ceased operation (such as the case of the UK in the 90s) and the reasons for this.
- Establish whether or not mobile abattoirs would be viable in Scotland by determining exactly what would be required from a regulatory point of view to operate such an enterprise (i.e. Food Standards Scotland requirements, water supply, waste removal etc.).
- Assess various operation models of mobile abattoirs to determine what would be required to make them a viable and sustainable operation (operational costs, number of animals slaughtered, facilities and skills requirements) in Scotland.
- Assess what impact mobile abattoirs could have on the viability of existing processing facilities and supply chains.
- Engage with key stakeholders to establish their views regarding the implementation of mobile abattoirs in Scotland.
- Consider changes that might help improve the viability of existing small abattoirs in Scotland.