Farmers forced to defy law and bring home their bacon: Tough EU rules have closed three North Yorkshire slaughterhouses and led to fewer animals being killed at a fourth. Oliver Gillie reports

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The Independent Online
FARMERS in North Yorkshire have returned to slaughtering their own animals, although it is illegal, because it is the only way they can be sure of getting their traditional Christmas hams.

European Union rules have closed three slaughterhouses near Whitby on the North Yorkshire moors and are making it difficult for another to continue.

John Smith, who owns a slaughterhouse at Egton in Eskdale, has had to halve the number of animals he kills to comply with EU rules, and he is having great difficulty managing the rush of Christmas orders.

'I am having to ration the butchers. They all want more animals slaughtered than I can manage because I am limited by the EU rules,' he said.

Mr Smith runs what the EU defines as a small slaughterhouse and so is only allowed to kill 20 units a week - a unit is one cow, three pigs or seven sheep. To qualify to be a large slaughterhouse, turning over more than 20 units a week, Mr Smith would have to have two entrances to his premises: one for vehicles carrying animals in and another for vehicles carrying meat out.

'If these buildings are good enough for us to slaughter 10 units on a Monday and 10 on a Tuesday why are they not good enough to do it the rest of the week? It's not possible to build separate entrances here. But why should that matter? Once the lorry is on the road it can pass anything it likes but it's not allowed to do that in my yard.'

He has spent pounds 45,000 on improving the premises only to see his income cut by more than one- third and his costs rising because of EU rules. 'The rules have been in place for almost a year but the frustration has come to a head now because so many people are wanting special Christmas orders and I just can't fit them in.

'A lot of people round here still keep a few pigs for themselves and their family and they generally want them slaughtered for Christmas. The big slaughterhouses can't be bothered with them. And if they took their pigs to a large abattoir they wouldn't be certain they had the same pigs back. That is why some local farmers are now killing their own pigs on the farm.'

Robert Ford, a local butcher, has his own farm and two shops. Along with Peter Radford, a butcher in Sleights, the Hutton brothers in Ruswarp, and several others, he has been rationed to three units a week by Mr Smith.

'I'm already a unit over what I should be this week and I haven't killed a sheep yet,' Mr Ford said.

To comply with EU rules, Mr Smith has to pay a veterinary surgeon to inspect the animals before they are killed even though the meat inspector examines the carcasses after they are killed. And if the animals are not slaughtered the same day they have to be inspected by the vet again the next day. Extra vet's fees and the cost of bringing small loads from market is increasing overheads while Mr Smith's turnover is cut from 35 units a week to 20.

'It is a crazy system. It is doing away with quality meat,' he said.

(Photograph omitted)