There are many reasons why we don’t have more small processors

Photo by Hugo-Photography (CC BY-ND 2.0).

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s become abundantly clear to many that Canada’s livestock processing industry is incredibly concentrated to a handful of federal plants. Now, as these plants face partial or short-term closures, many farmers and consumers alike are lamenting the lack of small, local abattoirs.

The trouble is, it’s not easy to keep a small plant running. If it was we would have many more processors than we currently do.

An abattoir is a challenging business to run and, like all businesses, it has to be profitable to be sustainable. As Franco Naccarato explains in the audio below, they are also labour intensive to operate and face regulatory and red tape burdens that can limit sales.

Naccarato, executive director with Meat and Poultry Ontario, says that large-scale processors have many advantages — volume and consistency being just two of them. But small-scale processors are more nimble and are able to deal with different size animals, customer orders, and providing for niche markets.

Still, even a small abattoir is an immense amount of infrastructure to either build or retrofit, Naccarato says. There’s an opportunity for entrepreneurs in the processing and butchering space, but the need for capital and a reliable labour force often holds people back from setting up shop.

Part of the solution to this could be robotics and automating some of the repetitive, heavy labour jobs in an abattoir. Another solution maybe is more coordination and cooperation between large and small processors — a model somewhere in between the two that can make the most of the advantages of both.