Slaughterhouse fears of small organic producers

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An ORGANIC meat producer has warned Scotland’s livestock farmers that the disappearance of small-scale slaughterhouses is threatening their diversification attempts.

Chris Walton, who with his wife Denise has built up a thriving organic meat supply business from their Berwickshire farm and butchery, said the cattle, pigs and sheep they convert into more than 75 specialist meat products now have to be slaughtered more than 100 miles away at Durham and carcases brought back.

The system works, he said, but is an unwanted complication that will only get worse as increasing costs and regulations force small rural slaughterhouses to close.

“Within two years there will probably not be a slaughterhouse between Elgin and Durham on the east coast and the situation in the west of Scotland is similar,” he said.

That has serious implications for any livestock farmer trying to do what he and his wife have achieved with Peelham Farm Produce, Foulden, in the past dozen years.

Recently he told a conference on the problems facing meat processors and slaughterhouses, large and small: “We run a small company employing seven people on our 780 acre organic farm.

“Our customers constantly ask for products they can’t get in supermarkets. Because we are a small team we can react quickly to that customer demand. Small slaughterhouses are vital in allowing businesses like us to flourish and feed into Scotland’s reputation for quality produce.”

This week he emphasised that need for quality meat products, and a slaughterhouse structure to support farmers trying to meet it, to members of the Merse agricultural discussion 
society at Duns.

The decision to diversify production on a typical Borders upland farm, he said, had been driven by a desire to be price-makers rather than price-takers, to reduce dependence on volatile livestock markets and to engage with consumers.

Initially, they had used a contract butcher. As sales increased of field-fed veal from suckled calves, lamb, mutton, rare-breed organic pork and, more recently, gluten-free sausages, salamis, air-dried hams and haggis, they took on more land, kept more livestock and now employ their own butchery staff.

“We have to find our customers, and do, because we’re almost a mile up a rough farm track and a farm shop wouldn’t work. But the world is your oyster online. It allows us, and any small business, to compete in dealing with individual consumers, hotels, delicatessens and restaurants.”

Although national demand for organic food has fallen by about 25 per cent, he said they continued to attract new customers “fed up with supermarkets” and looking for quality.