You are what you eat.
People have used this adage for decades, but it’s only been recently that its wisdom has been taken to heart, inspiring a reconnection with the land that produces their food, and the people that have dedicated their lives to growing and raising it.
However, attempting to assemble a diet comprised entirely of locally raised foods can be quite challenging, both for would-be locavores and independent farmers. Small-scale meat producers especially are becoming frustrated with an agricultural structure that is ill-equipped to process their wares.
Despite the growing number of locavores across the nation, the imbalance between local meat producers and the number of facilities in which they can safely process their animals is making it hard to make local foods available to a larger audience.
As commercial giants like ConAgra and Tyson continue to tighten their grip on an already consolidated meat production industry, the number of slaughterhouses nationwide declined to 809 in 2008 from 1,211 in 1992. At the same time increased interest in the local food movement has caused the number of small farmers to increase by 108,000 in the past five years.
Although it’s easy for a farmer to say that he’s going to raise chickens or hogs for consumption by his own family, the instant that farmer attempts to sell that meat to customers, he is forced to comply with a bevy of food safety regulations- some of which are far too expensive and rigourous for a small-scale farmer to comply with.
“In what could be a major setback for locavores, independent farmers around the country say they are forced to make slaughter appointments before animals are born and to drive hundreds of miles to facilities, adding to their costs and causing stress to livestock,” reported the NY Times.
In some cases, small producers can’t get access to these large facilities no matter what they’re willing to pay. Some traditional slaughterhouses simply won’t accommodate independent ranchers, due to the alleged “biosecurity” risk posed by animals raised in open air pastures and fed vegetarian diets instead of sterile growing cages.
Natural food suppliers know that if local food is to remain accessible for a larger portion of the nation’s population, a solution for this problem must be provided quickly and affordably, which is why one local food purveyor is proposing to bring the slaughterhouses to the farmer instead.
In an effort to drastically increase it’s selection of locally-sourced meats, Whole Foods — the world’s largest natural-foods supermarket — recently announced plans to work with the USDA as well as state authorities to establish a fleet of top-of-the-line “mobile slaughterhouses.” (Grist)
Although the intial Whole Foods proposal will focus on poultry farmers, this project could offer small farmers an affordable way to process meat without having to wait for an opening in overbooked facilities many miles from their farms.
In January, the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service held two webinars on the topic of mobile slaughter units.
The FSIS said that with recent interest in building slaughter capacity in rural areas, the webinars were meant to educate small and very small meat and poultry processors about the economic potential of mobile slaughter units.
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