The two-year e-learning training project will help small abattoirs, butchers and meat processors across the EU to add value to their products and services in an increasingly competitive market.
Rural development company IRD Duhallow is the project leader with partners in Ireland, Spain, Finland and Denmark.
The number of abattoirs in Ireland has fallen over the past 20 years from 1,000 to just over 200 today.
This trend is being repeated across Europe. But the Local Meat Supply Chains (SLMSC) project, funded by the European Commission’s Leonarda da Vinci programme, aims to halt this decline.
Research and Development Minister, Sean Sherlock, said: “It is heartening to see a project addressing some of the challenges faced by the rural meat sector in maintaining profitability and competitiveness.
“I look forward to seeing the results in two years from now.”
Project coordinator Isobel Fletcher said abattoirs play a key role in the meat supply chain; yet they have been closing down fast. Many of those not facing closure have seen a decline in profits and competitiveness leading to loss of income and jobs.
Given their rural location, they are also faced with the difficulty of retraining and reintegrating staff into the labour market.
Ms Fletcher said: “The decline is partly due to external factors: stringent international legislation, dominance of multinational retailers, rising consumer quality demands and scrutiny by environmental and nutritional groups. But the sector does continue to grow (+2% in Ireland, 2008) and there is strong consumer preference for locally sourced food.”
The project website — www.slmsc-project.eu — also goes live today. Apart from IRD Duhallow, the other Irish partner in the project is Leitrim-based Momentum Creative Marketing Services.