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Is A Lack Of Slaughterhouses Killing The Locavore Movement?

Is A Lack Of Slaughterhouses Killing The Locavore Movement?

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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Image Credit: Flickr Creative Commons - atoach

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126 comments

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7:59AM PDT on Apr 21, 2010

Not everything is going to be available locally, especially if you live in a colder climate. I think you have to do as much as you can.
I'm not a big citrus fruit eater so in the summer I can buy local fruit and veggies in season. Unfortunately things like beans, brown rice and lentils must come from elsewhere as they won't grow in most of Europe or North America.
A big part of the meat problem in much of the west is pure politics. The cattlemen have a grip on almost everything. It would make more sense to move away from cattle and allow wild bison to proliferate in North America. They've lived here for thousands of years and require no human assistance to thrive. Sheep are also much hardier and goats can survive almost anywhere.
Unfortunately it'll be a frosty day in Hell before agribusiness would permit sensible use of regional plants and animals to become the norm. They could easily take advantage of such a strategy and make a profit if they had the will and vision, but most of them aren't that forward thinking.

1:46PM PDT on Apr 14, 2010

I go to the farmers market every week for most of my veggies and fruits. It would be really great if local ranching is made more accessible.

2:00PM PDT on Apr 13, 2010

I volunteer at a rescue farm, and I am here to testify to you with all my heart - "food" animals are far more edifying in your arms and by your side than they are on your dinner plate.

9:08AM PDT on Apr 11, 2010

Polan in his book The Omnivore's Dilemma talks about this in depth and about a man who built a small processing facility for local meats and has been blocked by FDA. He also talks about how a farmer understanding the land and operating as a grass farmer can really produce some amazing food with no real impact. It all really comes back to corn and how production and use has been manipulated Very interesting read if you are interested in this topic in general. http://www.amazon.com/Omnivores-Dilemma-Natural-History-Meals/dp/1594200823

3:34PM PDT on Apr 10, 2010

If I'm "not made to be a vegetarian," why am I doing better this way than when I ate meat? Where are my fangs? Why do I have the vegetarian's long alimentary canal, which keeps meat so long it causes cancer? Why does animal fat clog my arteries so as to cause strokes and heart attacks?

Like it or not, the simple fact is that it takes far more land, water, and energy, and produces vastly more pollution, to grow feed for meat animals than to feed plants to humans directly. This is an inevitable consequence of the laws of thermodynamics; denying it is equivalent to claiming the invention of a perpetual motion machine. It deserves the same answer the Patent Office gives to such claims: "Show me."

How would I face my sweetheart Sugar, the whitetail deer who kisses me so ardently, if I were thinking about slices of her on my plate? The very thought nauseates me.

7:11AM PDT on Apr 10, 2010

After reading all the comments, a few points come to mind.

Those of you who attest that vegetarianism/veganism are the best choice for the environment need to rethink. Factory farming is unhealthy, and the land cannot sustain the kind of meat-eating that most Americans engage in, yes. But. Ecosystems require both plants *and* animals. The lack of animals to fertilize gives way to chemical fertilizers. The lack of animals to control pests gives way to chemical pesticides. Some areas of land cannot naturally sustain crops but can sustain livestock. The healthiest environment contains a balance of both as appropriate *for that particular bioregion.* There is no simple, one-size-fits-all solution, and it's certainly not to grow only plant crops.

Secondly, humans are not "made" to be vegetarians. Our physiology is that of an omnivore. Our cultural and evolutionary history is omnivorous. When civilizations could get meat, they ate it. Pretending that culture matters naught in the decision to become veggie is disingenuous.

In many cases, we co-evolved in a symbiotic relationship with livestock animals. We used them for food; they used us for protection and care.

I am a vegetarian. But this is *not* the only morally defensible choice and I maintain that shrieking in people's faces about "murder" and "corpses" will make enemies of a movement that, used properly, could do much good.

Also, please do give thought to the sustainability of your diet, veggie or not.

7:03AM PDT on Apr 10, 2010

Chrissie W: Surely you do understand that organic food from a local health food store is probably not *grown* locally? I'm not trying to be a smart-alec, but a lot of people truly don't know where their food comes from. There are very few regions in the U.S. where local produce can be acquired year-round.

Diana S: I never said that vegetarianism and locavorism are at odds with each other; I said that they *often* are. Trust me, I am both veggie and locavore--I know it is possible to be both! :)

As a few people have noted, it is challenging to eat only local foods. It is much easier to go to Whole Foods and pick up a bag of baby greens grown in California (I live in Maryland) than it is to spend your Saturdays during the hottest part of the year canning food all day. As with my choice of vegetarianism, this is an ethical choice I have made and a sacrifice I am happy to continue making. I don't expect that everyone can or will want to do the same, but I do ask all the self-righteous veggies out there to take stock of what you've eaten for the last week and where it came from. Do you even know? The average meal in the U.S. travels 1500 miles to get to your plate. The destruction to life that that causes is not as gruesome or immediately apparent as factory farming or slaughterhouses, no, but that does not mean that it is not happening. And, unfortunately, that reality is often an argument against vegetarianism and veganism and in favor of flexitarianism.

6:16AM PDT on Apr 10, 2010

Meat = Murder...simples...each and every time.

12:41PM PDT on Apr 9, 2010

Thank you for sharing this thought-provoking article.

3:35PM PDT on Apr 8, 2010

Think of the benefit of having animals raised properly, grass fed, allowed to wonder around and not stored in some toxic knee deep holding pen. We pay extra for grass fed and I do not want that animal fattened up on corn and soy - so many people are allergic to what the animal is fed and they think they can't eat meat - it's the feed.
Also if you have ever seen the inside of a "USDA approved slaughter house" you most likely would not want to eat the feces tainted meat anyway.
Besides if this provides a bit less big business and less big government involvement I am for it.
I would trust the local guy who's name is on their mail box more than I would trust some nameless corporation to provide me with an honest serving of quality food. No gimmicks, no B.S. (no pun intended), hormone free, grass fed, healthy animals, works well for my family and me.

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