Moved by Lord Trees
87: Clause 1, page 2, line 37, at end insert “slaughtering,”Member’s explanatory statementTo enable assistance to be given in an appropriate case to a licensed abattoir which, for example, provides a private kill service or enables slaughtering facilities in an area otherwise without adequate provision.
My Lords, I am very pleased to speak to this amendment in my name and those of the noble Baronesses, Lady Mallalieu, Lady Jones of Whitchurch and Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville. I draw attention to my interests as declared in the register, and particularly my role as co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Animal Welfare.
This is an enabling Bill, and I note that many amendments to date have been seeking more detail on how the Bill’s objectives will be realised. This amendment, adding one small word—slaughtering—puts some meat on the bones, if noble Lords will excuse a veterinary pun. It offers a means of helping to achieve two of the strategic objectives of the Bill: namely, to improve animal welfare and to enable the financial self-sustainability of farming and, in this case, of livestock farming.
First, with respect to welfare, there has been a huge reduction in the number of abattoirs in the UK in recent years. Since 2007, we have lost 40% of the abattoirs that existed at that time, as the industry has consolidated into bigger units. There is nothing wrong with bigger units, but bigger means fewer, and that means that animals in turn must travel longer distances in order to be slaughtered. It is a laudable commitment of this Government—and also a recommendation of a recent animal welfare committee report and a recent resolution from the British Veterinary Association—that animals should be killed as close to the point of production as possible. Fewer abattoirs runs counter to that admirable welfare goal.
On the financial self-sustainability of farming, one way that livestock farmers can achieve that is to add value to their product and retail directly. This is enabled by abattoirs that offer the so-called private kill option. These are, for the most part, the smaller abattoirs. Private kill returns the products of slaughter to the primary producer or their collaborators for processing. It enables local food production of good provenance and low food miles. It offers livestock farmers, especially those in upland areas, a viable business model. It offers them a much fairer and higher share of the price that the consumer pays. But it depends on the existence of suitable abattoirs.
“selling, marketing, preparing, packaging, processing or distributing products” from agriculture. Spot the missing link in the farm-to-fork food chain. As a livestock farmer, how can one do any of those ancillary activities without slaughtering?
The amendment is not about subsidising abattoirs. It would merely allow as eligible for assistance certain abattoirs that recognise the higher regulatory standards rightly required for operations that are relatively low throughput and local. Conditions of support can be developed in statutory guidance or schedules and could for instance include capital grants for equipment needed to comply with new legislation, such as the recent introduction of CCTV or to achieve more sustainable and carbon-efficient waste disposal.
Given the key role that small abattoirs can play in improving animal welfare, enabling local food production and enabling the financial sustainability of livestock farming, while contributing to the wider rural economy and our national food security, I submit that there is a strong case for their eligibility for support, subject to conditions, under this Bill. I beg to move.
My Lords, my farming interests are set out in the register. The noble Lord, Lord Trees, has just pointed out the word that is very obviously missing from the list in Clause 1(5). Livestock farming has to produce meat in the main and “slaughtering”, the most essential and first step in the process of all those set out in the list, is missing.
I do not think that this is an oversight. I am afraid that it might be deliberate, and there are two possible reasons. The Minister may consider that the word “preparing” includes slaughtering. If this is the case, could he or she please make it clear in plain terms for Hansard and then we can all go home happy? If the Minister will not do so, I am afraid that the omission is deliberate and has been made because so many small and medium-sized abattoirs have closed and the Government are frightened of making a commitment that they fear might require them to prop up a line of possibly failing businesses.
That is not my intention in putting my name to this amendment, nor do I believe that this very small amendment, if accepted, would result in public money being thrown away on a pointless, uneconomic enterprise. I hope that government money would not be spent under any of the other categories included in Clause 1(5) on other enterprises without a good reason and a good business case. This simple one-word amendment is important for livestock farmers, of which I am one, particularly farmers in the uplands, of which I am one. It is important for small producers, and vitally important for family farms, which the Government say they want to support.
May I give the Minister a reason to go back to the department and change minds if necessary? In Clause 1(1)(f), the Bill recognises that improving animal welfare is a public good that merits financial assistance. The public are concerned about it, particularly in relation to the meat industry, and the Government clearly are too. The Farm Animal Welfare Committee’s report, commissioned by Defra, says that animals should be slaughtered as near as possible to the place of production. I understand that the Government endorse that view, and not just for animal welfare reasons. The reduction of food miles and the carbon generated by them helps the mitigation of climate change, another public good meriting financial assistance under Clause 1(1)(d).
We will shortly hear the Government’s food strategy, being prepared by Henry Dimbleby. I hope that it will highlight the need for short supply chains, more local produce and reduced food miles, all of which this amendment would benefit. As the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, said, this Bill needs a pillar on which action may have to be taken when that report is put into effect.
The public are increasingly interested in where food comes from, as testified by Radio 4’s “The Food Programme” and its food and farming awards, and the Countryside Alliance’s retail awards. The Government say that they are concerned about obesity and healthy eating, and that they want producers to add value to primary products. This amendment ticks so many of the Government’s boxes and is of enormous assistance to family farms, which will undoubtedly be up against it in a major way when these changes happen.
There has been widespread praise for farmers who have stepped up and supplied meat boxes for local delivery during the current crisis. Many are small family farms trying to diversify, which the Government say that they support. Yet all of this is jeopardised, not supported, if the chain of small and medium-sized abattoirs continues to break down. Clearly, they are going out of business because the big buyers—mainly supermarkets—concentrate their operations on a small number of large abattoirs. Most of my Exmoor-produced lambs must go to Wales to be slaughtered, and many of my neighbours send theirs to Preston in Lancashire. Those are very long journeys for animals that almost invariably have never been off the farm before.
There is now a serious shortage of abattoirs in large areas of upland livestock rearing. It is also incredibly difficult in many places to find abattoirs that will slaughter pigs, which often travel very long distances. When emergency slaughter is needed, a lengthy journey is often necessary to find an abattoir prepared to do it. A market is expanding and could expand enormously but, as the noble Lord, Lord Trees, just said, the number of abattoirs prepared to do private kills for the small producer is dwindling.
So much could be done with very little financial assistance to rescue and rebuild the chain, and not merely by subsidising it. The Future for Small Abattoirs in the UK, produced by the All-Party Group for Animal Welfare, chaired by the noble Lord Trees and on which I sat, made a number of recommendations. The first was the formation of an abattoir sector council, which could speak to the Government, pool resources, knowledge and ideas, look at the waste collection market—a near monopoly that has closed so many small and medium-sized operations—and help the small abattoirs to change, as many are having to do, to meet current legislative requirements. There could also be many opportunities for hides and other by-products to add value in ways not currently being exploited. We should also be looking at the recent Scottish trials for the co-operative provision of mobile abattoirs for remote areas and looking to guide groups of small-scale producers who currently want to do the same.
As the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, said earlier in Committee, a little pump-priming can do an enormous amount. Of course, the Government should not pour money into a failing sector, but not to add slaughtering to the list of this Bill would be to miss a real opportunity to support small farmers, innovation and a growing emerging market, to cut food miles, help diversification and, most importantly, to greatly improve animal welfare by cutting that last journey time. The case for the Government accepting this amendment is unanswerable.
In the 1980s, we had an extensive network of small, family-run, easily accessible abattoirs, then along came an innocuous draft EU directive on slaughterhouses. As an MEP, I took soundings from many in rural communities. We worked very closely with what was then MAFF. Off his own bat, after years of waiting, and in a classic example of gold-plating, an official in MAFF took the opportunity to drive a coach and horses through the abattoir network and close many of the well-functioning, perfectly safe, smaller abattoirs serving the rural communities.
That brought devastating results in the early 1990s and again in the early 2000s, when we experienced BSE and foot and mouth disease. As the noble Lord, Lord Trees, said in moving this amendment, that led to longer journeys for livestock being taken to abattoirs, and potentially the spread of those diseases at that time. The noble Lord quite rightly identified this problem, and as the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, has just said, there are now parts of Scotland, particularly the islands, without abattoirs and completely dependent on mobile abattoirs. That raises costs to the producer, which goes to the heart of the viability of livestock production in the rural areas of the Highlands and Islands and, as the noble Lord, Lord Trees, said, raises serious animal welfare concerns.
We must revert to a better and more extensive network, as we enjoyed before. This network of smaller, family-friendly, easily accessible slaughterhouses should be put in place and Amendment 87 provides the means to do so.
I am no expert on agriculture, but I live in the Isles of Scilly, and I want to give a small example of the need for an abattoir there, which may be similar to the example of Scotland just given by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh. There are five inhabited islands in the Isles of Scilly. They all have livestock—cows and often pigs—and they provide some good conservation grazing, overlooked by the Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust. All the farmers are very much in favour of having an abattoir on the islands and would probably increase the number of cows they have if this were the case.
One problem at the moment is that they go from the off-islands in their trailers in a small freight ship to St Mary’s, and then on to another freight ship to Penzance, which takes about five hours on a good day—it does not travel on a bad day. They may then be trailed as far as Plymouth, which probably takes another five hours or so, and then, as we all know, the animals are rested before being slaughtered. Another problem is that there is an enormous cost to this. Some farmers say that the feedstuffs they have to buy cost three or four times as much as on the mainland.
There is an enormous interest in having a fixed abattoir on St Mary’s. The Duchy of Cornwall, which is the landlord here, has told me that it would be keen to see one built here now that the problems of remote veterinary oversight, as mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, have been overcome. All the farmers would use it but the problem, of course, is the capital cost. It is expensive and would not be used all the time but, once it was operational, it would wash its face because there is a big demand for local meat here, grown locally. Even when it goes to the mainland and comes back in butchered portions it is very popular—I think it is really good.
My only comment on the amendment itself is that for us in Scilly, “slaughtering” would need to include a cutting room and butchery. They may need to be part of it. Again, I am no expert on this; some other noble Lords who have spoken, or the Minister, may be able to put me right. But if we are going to slaughter the animals here on this island—or, I suggest, in other remote areas in the Scottish islands or parts of the mainland—we need to butcher and prepare them, and then be able to sell them locally. That would be really beneficial to the local economy at this time, when many hill farmers and remote farmers are very concerned about what will happen after Brexit.
When the Minister comes to wind up, I hope that he will either agree to this amendment or invite us to a meeting or two and come up with his own suggestions on this small but very serious problem. It could enable the hill farmers and island farmers—and probably remote farmers in Cornwall as well—to survive and prosper, using local and rare breeds on occasions, along with many other benefits of local delivery. I fully support the amendment.
My Lords, my interests are as on the register. In addition, I chair The Prince’s Countryside Fund and this is an issue of deep concern to that fund, which has attempted to provide support to some of the threatened abattoirs, particularly on the Scottish islands referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh. I also declare that I speak as a former chair of the Meat and Livestock Commission, which I was when much of the EU legislation to which she also referred was introduced, leading to the closure of a lot of small abattoirs.
I very much support Amendment 87, sponsored by my noble friend Lord Trees. The geographical network of abattoirs across the United Kingdom is essential to ensure that local livestock producers have slaughtering facilities. These UK livestock producers are becoming increasingly worried about their future at present and feeling threatened on a number of fronts. There is high-profile media support for plant-based protein, for example, as referred to in debate on the Bill earlier this week, and that land should be converted from meat production to plant-based food. A vast proportion of the landscape of Britain is incapable of producing plant-based food for direct human consumption. It delivers a huge range of environmental benefits by grazing livestock, including biodiversity and carbon capture. This was referred to comprehensively by the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, in debate on the previous group of amendments.
Other threats include maligning the poor ruminant sector about its significance in producing methane emissions, along with the potential for a US trade deal—and other trade deals—to threaten, particularly, beef and lamb producers and undermine their market. Many of these livestock producers farm in the most fragile areas of Britain, such as the pasturelands, uplands and hills. We hope that their management of these immensely valuable landscapes will be recognised in the ELM scheme but that is also highly uncertain for them at present, while we await the details of the pilots. The loss of direct support is perceived to be another fundamental threat to traditional livestock production.
These are deep concerns. Many local abattoirs have already closed, as has been mentioned, largely due to high compliance costs. The cost per unit of production in a small abattoir is significant; to lose even more will put at risk the future viability of the livestock sector. Their existence is essential and if we wish to expand local and regional food markets, involving organic, native breed or pasture-reared livestock, et cetera, I suggest that we should want to expand them rather than see a reduction in these local opportunities. Including “slaughtering” in the Bill is important. Adding value to local and regional food products will be even more important when we leave the European Union, and this will be impossible without access to local abattoirs. In line 38 on page 2, “processing” is open to interpretation and may not include abattoirs, so I support this amendment.
My Lords, as has already been urged, there is a compelling case for paying attention to the plight of small abattoirs and for the Government to offer financial support to enable their survival. They are relied upon by farmers who market the meat from their own animals locally.
A small abattoir is one which slaughters fewer than 1,000 livestock units each year. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Trees, said, in spite of strong and growing local demand, they are being driven out of business by a combination of factors beyond their control. For example, in the last 12 months a further seven have had to close. The Government seek to protect local farming communities and their ancillary services, and to increase rural employment. In the conditional and qualified way that the noble Lord has outlined, it is therefore all the more consistent with the Bill that they should now assist small abattoirs.
I hope that my noble friend the Minister can give us reassurance about this today. Meanwhile, in supporting this amendment, I pay tribute to the Food Standards Agency for doing as much as it can in difficult circumstances, as I do to the noble Lord, Lord Trees, for the useful recent report he has written on small abattoirs, as chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Animal Welfare.
My Lords, in line with this amendment, I support the principle of slaughtering animals as close as possible to their place of growth and finishing. To me, there are three main reasons why this is a good idea, some of which have already been touched on.
First, it minimises the stress on the animals, which must be a golden rule or ambition underlying everything that our livestock industry stands for. I might add that this lack of stress has also been proven to improve the quality of the meat.
Secondly, local abattoirs allow specialist producers to generate premium prices from the sale of meat, based on branding due to genuine local provenance and high animal welfare. For some of our breeders, especially those in remote and special landscapes, this USP is crucial to the success of their enterprise.
Thirdly, local slaughter allows for the handling, cutting, processing and marketing of the meat to be done close to the point of production, thus enabling the economic and social benefits of the whole production process to be captured by the local rural economy.
All three of these reasons are important for remote rural communities, and particularly island-based communities, as mentioned by noble Lords. As the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, said, the shenanigans and even cruelty involved in the process of getting animals bred on the Isles of Scilly to slaughter is a prime example of how to almost destroy a perfectly good-quality local organic food business. Clearly, small abattoirs result in an expensive system, but with the market emphasis focusing more and more on high-quality and specialist production, particularly local production, it is to be hoped that the Government will support such schemes wherever they can.
My Lords, I refer to my interests as declared previously. I too will speak to the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Trees, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Mallalieu, Lady Jones and Lady Bakewell. I had hoped to put my name down to it too, but was too late getting in.
Noble Lords have already eloquently laid out the case for this amendment and I do not propose to repeat all the arguments. However, I too emphasise the benefits that this amendment would bring. Clearly, reducing travel times has to be a priority. Slaughter should take place at the closest point possible to where animals are raised. Also, the more individual handling that takes place in a small abattoir is, I hope, less frightening than a big processing abattoir. Not only would that enable the provision of private kill, as described previously, thus helping farmers who wish to sell their meat themselves; farmers would also be able to ensure that animals are killed in the way they prefer and that they are pre-stunned.
Much as I respect the needs of our multicultural society in the UK—I emphasise that—I am also concerned about welfare standards. The RSPCA and Compassion in World Farming have highlighted that more animals are killed without stunning than are needed for UK halal and kosher consumption, and that they are more flexible for sale. A Food Standards Agency report last year highlighted that 90,000 of the 2.9 million non-stunned animals slaughtered for kosher-certified meat were rejected as unfit for religious consumption and went into the general market unlabelled. Enabling private kill for local small abattoirs will give farmers a choice if they do not wish their animals to be slaughtered in that way. I also ask the Minister for better labelling of all meat products regarding the method of slaughter, so that those who wish to eat meat that has been pre-stunned are able to do so.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a member of the National Farmers Union. My interest in this amendment relates to private kill mainly in upland and less-favoured areas for specialist farm shops. I agree with everything that has been said. There have been many Second Reading speeches in Committee, which does nothing to speed up the passage of the Bill, so that we are able to pay farmers next year. Therefore, I see absolutely no need to prolong this process and to repeat the arguments that have been made so eloquently earlier this afternoon. I agree entirely with all that has been said and I support very strongly the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Trees.
My Lords, for me, the impetus to take an interest in the Bill was going back to my constituency—an urban constituency in Northampton, although surrounded by some of the finest pasture in the United Kingdom and with a lot of sheep production. I was reminded by my farmer friends who took me round of the closure of our cattle market, which had been there for centuries, and of our abattoir, so that the animals had to be taken much further to be slaughtered. Having thought about it a bit further, I listened to the noble Lord, Lord Trees, and I say thank you, sir, to him. His was a fine presentation, and I am not surprised that the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, is a leading legal person. They both put the case very strongly. As far as I can see, animal welfare today is ever more important, and it dictates that slaughtering should be as close to the means of production as possible. Secondly, I am in no doubt, having visited a couple of abattoirs, that the ease of handling in a small abattoir is much greater.
I am a little concerned about the high costs of the smaller abattoirs—maybe the Minister will shed some light on this. I do not know what the differential is, and I do not see any reason why a smaller abattoir should be excessively more expensive than a medium-sized or large one. I do not need to say any more on this amendment; it has my support and I wish it well.
My Lords, I have put my name to Amendment 87. The noble Lord, Lord Trees, the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, and the noble Lord, Lord Curry of Kirkharle, have made a compelling case for financial assistance for the slaughtering of animals closer to the farm, which also reduces food miles. On many occasions I have heard the Minister say that animal welfare is extremely important. Over the years, we have seen the closure of many small local and rural abattoirs, which has led to larger abattoirs further away from where stock is reared, as the noble Lord, Lord Trees, said.
The regulations on abattoirs are stricter than they used to be. The installation of CCTV ensures that animals are not distressed at the point of slaughter, vets are present, and paperwork is kept for future inspection. However, this does not assist with the passage of the animal from the farm to the abattoir. The shorter and less stressful this journey, the better for the animal—and for the quality of the meat, as the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, pointed out. I do not subscribe to the view that this does not matter as the animal is about to die, so why worry about its journey to the end? Animals deserve to be treated with compassion at all times. A network of smaller abattoirs serving local communities is essential for the farming community, especially small farming families. It will help them to process their animals on to the food industry or, in some cases, back to the farm for sale in the farm shop, thereby supporting the local economy.
The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, and the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, made a powerful case for abattoirs on both the islands of Scotland and the Scilly Isles. There will be a cost involved in increasing the number of abattoirs, but they are essential to preventing distressing long journeys for animals. Consumers are keen to support locally grown and fed produce, and wish to buy the meat from a reputable source where they know the animals have been well cared for and fed. Slaughtering has to be included in the list for financial assistance. Concentrating all slaughter in larger, remote venues is not a satisfactory answer to the issues of animal welfare and convenience for the local farmer, whose time is limited. I look forward to the Minister’s response to the arguments raised in this debate.
My Lords, I was pleased to add my name to this amendment, and I will speak briefly in support of it.
Many local farmers have trusted and long-standing relationships with their local abattoir, and it is therefore very distressing when they have to close. As we have heard, it means longer and more stressful journeys for the animals concerned and clearly has a negative impact on their welfare. It also means that the Government are failing in their stated objective to reduce travel times for slaughter.
For farmers wanting to sell their meat as a specified farm product, through so-called private kill arrangements, it also means a more complicated process for retrieving the carcass and ensuring that it is properly labelled. Yet we are all in favour of local food production with specified provenance, which is really appreciated by consumers and can help to add value and boost the rural economy.
Of course, it is important that local abattoirs meet our high slaughterhouse standards and are properly supervised and certified, and this amendment would do nothing to undermine that important principle. I therefore hope that the Minister will feel able to support this small but significant amendment. It is not the total answer to the fate of our small abattoirs, but it would represent a small step forward.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Trees, for his amendment, which highlights the many activities associated with the production of food along the supply chain. In doing so, I acknowledge the fine work of the APPG for Animal Welfare, which he chairs so ably. The Government are committed to addressing the issues raised by its recent report on small abattoirs.
Given his detailed work as chair of that group, I am sure that the noble Lord will agree that the issues faced by small abattoirs are complex and unlikely to be resolved through intervention alone. I know at first hand the advantages of small local abattoirs from the days when I used to deliver my Black Welsh Mountain sheep to the Witney abattoir on the school run—actually, it was on the return from the school run, as I was a little squeamish for the children.
I am delighted to say that we have had it confirmed that the definition of ancillary activities in Clause 1(5) covers slaughtering under either “preparing” or “processing”.
Noble Lords asked a number of questions, which I would like to address. The noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, asked why micro-abattoirs are not listed as a public good. They are an important part of the agricultural supply chain, but they operate on a commercial basis and therefore do not directly meet the principles of public good. Public goods that may be derived from small abattoirs, such as improved animal welfare or environmental impact, are obviously already covered by Clause 1.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson of Abinger, ably asked many questions about religious slaughter. The Government encourage the highest standards of animal welfare. Although our policy is to prefer that animals are stunned prior to slaughter, we accept the rights of Jewish and Muslim communities to eat meat killed in accordance with their religious beliefs. No regulations require the labelling of halal or kosher meat, but where any information of this nature is provided voluntarily, it must be accurate and must not be misleading to the consumer. The Government expect the industry, whether food producer or outlet, to provide consumers with all the information they need to make informed choices. The Government have committed to a serious and rapid examination of the role of labelling in promoting high standards and high welfare across the UK market and will consult on this at the end of the transition period. I should also say that farm assurance schemes apply standards of production that include slaughter requirements; for example, Red Tractor and RSPCA-assured schemes require stunned slaughter.
I hope that I have given noble Lords sufficient assurance that this issue has already been dealt with. With that, I ask the noble Lord, Lord Trees, to withdraw his amendment.
I thank everybody who has spoken so eloquently in support of this amendment. I am very grateful. I thank the Minister for her response. She said something significant: that slaughtering is covered by “processing”. I would appreciate it if we could have that confirmed in writing or in a subsequent meeting; I am sure that the other noble Lords who put their names to this amendment would also appreciate that. We need to be assured that that is the case; otherwise, we would want to bring the amendment back on Report. Meanwhile, I am happy to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 87 withdrawn.
Amendments 88 and 89 not moved.