VEGA News Item

Who Wants Their Local Slaughterhouse Next Door? - 10/07/2007
Food miles is a concept attracting a lot of critical attention these days, but when the distance is reduced to the NIMBY opposition’s premises real difficulties appear...
Food miles is a concept attracting a lot of critical attention these days, but when the distance is reduced to the NIMBY* opposition’s premises real difficulties appear. The Meat Trades Journal of 22 June 2007 offered its advice to prospective buyers of abattoirs (or slaughterhouses to give them their truly brutal name). Martin Palmer, head of Meat and Livestock Industry offered cold comfort by the way of profits: slaughterhouses “are not generating profit but are there to support an industry. Profit often comes from the businesses served by abattoirs”, he says. “An operator might think he has 200 farmer-suppliers and can offer contract killing at £65 to £70 per animal without competition”, but “one or more of the many under-utilized plants across the country might then decide they want a piece of the action and undercut the price”.

“Buying an existing site offers benefits over new-builds, in that planning permission has already been granted”, continues Martin Palmer. “No one wants an abattoir on the doorstep, with it rating in the top 3 new-builds likely to attract NIMBY opposition, along with waste disposal sites and prisons”. He cites an example of C and K Meats who had to wait over 3 years before declined planning permission for its £3m slaughterhouse and processing site at the Mid Suffolk Business Park in Eye was overturned. Opposition from other businesses in the Park resulted in the initial decision, but the plant’s relocation will now go ahead.

Giving advice to buyers Martin Palmer says that “most want to do more than just killing”. The Food Standards Agency adds its advice on layout, design, construction, site, and size of the premises, which “should allow adequate maintenance and cleaning, minimize air-borne contamination, and provide hygiene working space”. Allowance must be given to “protect against build-up of dirt, condensation, mould, and pestilence, and provide suitable conditions for handling and storing food at appropriate temperatures. Particular attention should be paid to hand-washing facilities and toilets, ventilation, lighting, drainage, floors, walls (which should be easily cleanable and impervious to fluids), ceilings, windows, and doors, surfaces, and facilities for washing equipment and food”. In short, flies, rats, noise, commotion, and disposals of blood and guts – hardly the amenities that the green-inclined second-homer wants while entertaining of a summer’s afternoon on food bought at the local farmers’ market.

The miles “down the road” from farm to slaughterhouse, possibly broken by spells in auction rings, markets, and dealerships are worrying for animals, human and non-human. Poultry and especially spent hens suffer fractures and deaths in transit, yielding high DOAs, those dire data on deaths on arrival. Mobile slaughterhouses have been tried, but they have been unable to cope. Movements of animals heighten the dangers of transmitted diseases, TB being a notable topical example, but threats of bacterial and viral epidemics, some affecting humans, loom increasingly. For such purposes asphyxiation on site by mass-gassing in mobile chambers is likely. Transmission of muck and pathogens from farm to fork is a constant danger. Mucky animals, say, dairy cows from barren cubicles and exposed to ordure may not be accommodated at the slaughterhouse and be sent away to less strict premises or to a lairage or they may be penned in a crush to allow a worker to attempt the dangerous job of shaving the muckier areas along which the saw will travel to separate the sides of beef with the just-killed animal swinging on the rail.

Cargos of tomatoes shipped in from the Canary Islands travel in gentler conditions and with more protection than millions of farm animals in transit in the miles between farms, markets, and slaughterhouses. Tomatoes must reach the shops unbruised and not squashed. Evidence of injury and stress on the farm and in lorries and shipments is obvious in meat inspectors’ reports on rejections (for human consumption) of carcasses and offals. And calculating the toll of food miles must account for the movements of feedstuffs to maintain excessive outputs and production. Modern dairy cows and poultry from the local farm and their outputs are no more “British” than Landrovers assembled in factories in the Midlands with parts “globally sourced”.

*NIMBY = Not in my backyard  

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