New Clause 23 - Local abattoir networks

Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 2:15 pm ar 18 Tachwedd 2021.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

“The Secretary of State must ensure a network of local abattoirs exists to provide the services required to support the UK’s diverse livestock farming sector and to deliver livestock welfare benefits through minimising distance to slaughter.”—

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Daniel Zeichner Daniel Zeichner Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

We have touched on this issue already. Many are concerned about it, with the notable exception of the Secretary of State, who sparked incredulity across the sector earlier this year with comments suggesting that all is fine in the world of abattoirs. Opposition Members do not think that the lack of local abattoirs is fine, and we want to find ways to address the problem, which is what new clause 23 is about. I will focus specifically on the animal welfare benefits that building up such a network would achieve.

Through the Bill, the Government are rightly trying to end the export of certain livestock for slaughter. This practice can have seriously negative impacts on livestock as a result of extensive journey times, as we have discussed. However, we do not think that the problem will be resolved simply by banning overseas exports. In the UK, there has been a rapid decline in the number of local abattoirs. A report by National Craft Butchers stated that there are only 62 local slaughterhouses left, and prospects for the future are fairly bleak. Seven in 10 abattoir owners were aged over 51, with 11% still working beyond the normal retirement age. More than half had no plan for someone younger to take over. That decline is down to a host of reasons, including staff shortages, vet shortages, centralisation of supply chains and, inevitably, regulatory changes and bureaucracy.

However, the consequence of the lack of a local network of abattoirs is that animals are often transported over long distances for slaughter, which poses much the same welfare concerns as shipping animals overseas, as animals still spend long periods being transported. I appreciate that the Government are consulting on these issues, but I think I am correct in saying that that is largely about improving transport. That is fine, but it does not alter the fact that long distances remain long distances. As I said, some of this is inevitably linked to significant changes in the way supply chains operate and to consolidation within sectors; the old days of local markets have largely gone, and while vertical integration may have benefits, there are, as ever, wider consequences that are less beneficial.

In September, the EFRA Committee published a report on moving animals across borders, saying:

“The consolidation of abattoir services means that the spread of services is not uniform across the UK, so many animals have to travel long journeys prior to slaughter. This undermines the ambition of the Government’s consultation on ‘Improvements to animal welfare in transport’ to reduce unnecessarily long journey times”.

I have spoken about this before. It is quite clear that the lack of local slaughterhouses also means that smaller farmers are unable to keep certain types of animals, due to the welfare concerns associated with transporting them over long distances for slaughter, which in turn reduces the likelihood of the return to mixed farming, which many would like.

Put simply, the market may be delivering what works for some retailers, but it is not delivering the wider public goods that we were discussing in this very Committee room almost two years ago in the Agriculture Bill Committee. We warned about these problems then, and today we give the Government the opportunity to do something about them.

Photo of Neil Hudson Neil Hudson Ceidwadwyr, Penrith and The Border

I echo some of the comments of the hon. Member for Cambridge. I am glad that he referred to the EFRA Committee report. I am a member of that Committee. Based on our findings on the movement of animals across borders, one of our key recommendations was that the UK local abattoir network needed supporting and bolstering, and we recommended that the Government look at that. If we improve the local abattoir network it will actually mitigate a lot of the animal welfare issues related to long-distance transport, because distances will be shorter and animals will be reared locally and slaughtered locally and the food will be purchased and eaten locally—something that we are all pushing for. I know that Ministers agree with me that that is a positive thing that we should try to move towards.

I support the thrust of the new clause from the hon. Member for Cambridge, and I very much hope the Government will listen to him and to the EFRA Committee’s recommendations. I would welcome it if the Minister could give us some assurances that the Government will look at this issue to support and bolster the abattoir network. As the hon. Member mentioned, the situation is becoming acute, and I mentioned the pig situation in the Chamber. We need to make sure that the abattoir system is functioning, both for our food security and for animal welfare. That includes both veterinary and butcher capacity. This is a chance for the Government to give us some assurances and specifics on how they will look at this moving forward.

Photo of Victoria Prentis Victoria Prentis The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 2:30, 18 Tachwedd 2021

The Government acknowledge the importance of local abattoirs to improving animal welfare through shorter journey times. We are committed to working with the industry to ensure that the UK maintains its high-quality slaughtering facilities. We need to find innovative solutions to address funding issues for small abattoirs.

I am pleased to report that the rural development programme is supporting a mobile abattoir project. The project is currently being trialled at two sites. One is at Fir Farm in Gloucestershire, which I had the pleasure of visiting with the chairman of the EFRA Committee and Lord Benyon earlier this summer; the other is at M.C. Kelly Farm in Devon. It was a very interesting pilot and I would be happy to discuss it with Members outside the Committee; it has thrown up issues that we will have to work through and resolve—that is the purpose of a pilot of course. We really do believe that this project will act as a model for future mobile abattoir sites.

We at DEFRA also chair the small abattoirs working group, which brings together industry representatives. We have initiated a series of smaller sub-groups to go into detailed discussions on how to reduce the regulatory burdens on smaller abattoirs. So far issues discussed include the new livestock information programme, the potential for streamlining the administrative and regulatory burden on small abattoirs and ways of ensuring greater co-ordination across Government agencies and abattoirs. I am looking at how a new group—for which I have two excellent chairs in mind—can oversee all this work and drive through the changes that we need in this area. I will continue to update Members as we progress through this work. Given those circumstances, I would ask that we do not vote on new clause 23.

Photo of Daniel Zeichner Daniel Zeichner Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I am grateful for the Minister’s response. I think we are on the same page on this. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.