This report, by Quality Meat Scotland at the request of the Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers, shows that only two thirds of the processing capacity for cattle in Scotland is now being used.
The position is even worse in the sheep sector with little more than one third of the abattoir capacity currently being utilised. Coming midway between these two, about half the capacity for pig slaughtering is being used.
Commenting on the survey, Alan Craig, SAMW president, said it backed up what his association had been saying for more than two years. "We have pleaded our case to the Scottish Government, to the CAP Health Check, to the Brian Pack Review, all so far without an adequate response.
"Whatever the outcome of the CAP process both pre and post 2013, there is no doubt that production incentives are vital to underpin Scotland's reputation as a serious country of quality meat production."
Brian Simpson, development executive with the Scottish Beef Cattle Association, fully supported the case made by SAMW for government intervention to halt the serious decline in cow numbers. "Scotland's beef producers rely on processors to kill, cut and pack our beef efficiently and to market the Scotch label to maximise the advantage for all of us," he said. "Beef breeders and finishers will quickly respond when market signals are right – the serious decline in prices offered by abattoirs over the last six months needs to be reversed now if we are to have any hope of halting the decline in cow numbers."
The decline in Scottish and UK breeding cattle numbers seen since the introduction of decoupled CAP payments five years ago has been around 9 per cent; This despite the reintroduction of mature cattle into the food chain in late 2005.
The consequential loss of throughput in the abattoirs is, according to SAMW, a major threat to the profitability of the Scottish abattoir sector with overheads having to be spread over much-reduced throughputs.
SAMW also pointed out that as a significant exporter of red meat, any further decline in livestock numbers will limit the contribution Scotland can make to securing food supplies for a growing UK and European population.