A government report on small abattoirs has been broadly welcomed by the farming industry - but time is of the essence.

The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Animal Welfare has recognised small abattoirs as an essential link in the farm-to-fork chain for local meat, and a crucial part of the UK’s agricultural infrastructure.

In particular, the report’s recommendation for government to support the sector with an emergency fund has been seen as crucial to avoid further closures.

Patrick Holden, CEO of the Sustainable Food Trust said: “Our food and farming systems are facing multiple challenges with an Agriculture Bill that fails to safeguard UK standards and a future subsidy system that could see the demise of the family farm if action is not taken.

"More than ever we need a well distributed network of small abattoirs that offer ‘private kill’ services for farmers who wish to add value by marketing and selling their meat direct to consumers.

"The public has clearly shown demand for local, traceable food produced to a very high standard, while Covid-19 has taught us that a resilient local food supply is paramount for UK food security. Small abattoirs are an essential part of the local food and farming infrastructure that makes this possible.”

The report calls attention to the alarming decline in the number of small abattoirs.

A third of small abattoirs closed in the last ten years alone - with only 62 now left in the UK.

Farmers are increasingly concerned by these losses and many now face long waiting lists and uneconomical distances to slaughter, putting their businesses at risk and raising concerns for animal welfare.

Read more: Urgent cash injection needed from Defra to save smaller abattoirs

Christopher Price, CEO of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust said: “We welcome this report. The livestock sector is going to change radically over the next few years. As subsidies are phased out, and people become increasingly interested in the quality, provenance and environmental impact of what they eat, farmers will inevitably be keeping fewer animals but a much more diverse range of breeds.

"We desperately need an abattoir network set up for this, able to process smaller numbers of “non-standard” animals.”

The National Sheep Association (NSA), while welcoming several recommendations made in the report, is saddened by the news a further 12 small/low throughput abattoirs have been lost during the two-year period the report was produced.

NSA chief executive Phil Stocker said: “Covid-19 has shown that localised meat supply chains retailing through farm shops, butchers, and home deliveries, provide resilience, choice, and service to consumers.

“They also giving the chance to add value, retain margins, and create a close relationship with the public, for producers.

"Many farm shops have reported meat sales up by a factor of three or four during this period and there are clear opportunities to be gained by holding onto this growth as we move forward, and potentially growing further.”

“With many small and low throughput abattoirs having been lost, and those remaining still under immense pressure, the only thing more crucial than this report is to get its recommendations implemented quickly.”