The position with regard to abattoirs generally is that, under EU regulations, those slaughtering more than 1,000 livestock units per annum must comply with the requirements of the European Communities (Fresh Meat) Regulations, 1997. Smaller abattoirs with a throughput of less than 1,000 livestock units per annum are licensed by my Department under the Abattoirs Act, 1988. They are derogated from certain structural provisions of the EU directives. They are, however, required to achieve minimum standards regarding hygiene, animal welfare and the environment. Once licensed by my Department, the operation of day-to-day controls is a matter for the relevant local authority under the overall control of the Food Safety Authority of Ireland.
I fully acknowledge the important role played by domestic abattoirs within the wider food sector and this has been reflected in the approach adopted by my Department to establishments which have demonstrated a willingness to comply with the regulations. Given that consumer protection must be our absolute priority, my Department has no option, however, but to refuse to license those premises which are not prepared to achieve the minimum standard required.
Financial aid for abattoirs falls within the ambit of the processing and marketing provisions of the EU guidelines for State aid in the agriculture sector. One such provision stipulates that aid may only be granted to enterprises which comply with existing minimum standards regarding hygiene, animal welfare and the environment. While it is not possible, therefore, to provide funding to achieve minimum hygiene standards, there are possibilities for financial aid in circumstances which involve rationalisation, research and development, human resources, training and so on. In a series of meetings between my Department and the association representing small abattoirs, the criteria which would apply to such financial aid were outlined and the association was invited to submit proposals.
I have recently received a submission from the Associated Craft Butchers of Ireland entitled, Food for the Future, in which it is seeking support for the retention of the family butcher-local abattoir. This submission is being examined by my Department.