Smokies' £3m cash potential for meat processors - Report

By Rory Harrington

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Wales

New research has shown that abattoirs and processors could be major beneficiaries from a move to legalise production of skin-on sheep meat, estimated to be worth more than ₤3m annually in Wales alone.

The study, carried out on behalf of Hybu Cig Cymru (HCC) - Meat Promotion for Wales - concluded that the currently illegal production of skin-on sheep meat – or ‘smokies’ – could be carried out safely and hygienically in approved abattoirs.

EU open-minded

The UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) announced last week that the European Commission has indicated that EU legislation could be changed to allow ‘smokies’ to be produced legally. But the agency added the Commission would require “strong supporting evidence”​ and any legalization process was likely to take a “number of years”.

HCC Chief Executive Gwyn Howells said: “This is good news for the red meat sector. The livestock that is needed for this product will be older cull ewes, and represent a product that is in addition to our current output of premium quality Welsh Lamb. As a result, skin-on sheep meat is an entirely new product generating new income for everyone involved."

Potential processor benefits

The HCC report indicates that logistically it would be possible for both abattoirs and processors to maker additions to their production lines to incorporate extra machinery to deal with smokies. But this would present challenges as the carcass changes position at various stages along a modern inverted dressing line, which could result in it being “in the wrong orientation for the process”,​ said the HCC. Processors would need to organise the order of process on the slaughterline to be: slaughter – singe – pressure wash – head removal – eviscerate & dress – inspect – toast/ second singe, advised the document.

Initial outlay cost for processors is estimated to be between ₤75,000 and ₤125,000, to cover the cost of machinery including singers and washers. There could also be additional labour, space and separate storage costs, said the research carried out by the University of Bristol for the HCC.

Barriers to entry

The cost of equipment will be a limiting factor in the supply of smokie meat as well as discouraging some plants from investing, said the report authors.

“Those who have little current knowledge of the process or the market are unlikely to rush into production", they added.

Estimated figures

The research projected the £3.1m would be generated by a throughput of 155,000 cull ewe carcasses annually in Wales alone, with the retail price of each estimated at around ₤20. This is based on a retailer cut of £5, the abattoir £10 and the producer £5.

“In practice, both the average retail premium and the premium to the abattoir could be greater than this,”​ said the report

Abattoirs would have to process and market 7,500 ewes annually to cover cost of equipment of £75,000 for ‘skin-on sheep meat’ production based of an increased income of £10/ head for ‘skin-on sheep meat’ carcasses over conventionally produced carcasses, forecast the study.

Dossier of evidence

“It's too soon to speculate exactly when the FSA will be in a position to approach the EC to call for a change in current legislation,"​ said Mr Howells. "But this report adds to the dossier of evidence being gathered by the FSA in favour of changing the law.

"The FSA have gathered evidence on meat inspection and hygiene. Further work is ongoing on the residues of veterinary medicines in the skin, which is due to be completed this autumn.”

He said the FSA was expected to produce a scientific report before petitioning Ministers to approach the EC to propose a change of law.

"From the demand side alone, it is without doubt in the interests of the Welsh red meat industry to approach the EC to reconsider its position on the legalisation of this process,"​ said Mr Howells.

Related topics: Processing & Packaging

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