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Not-So-Local Meat

Not-So-Local Meat

Last month I was witness to an illegal pig slaughter. I should probably clarify this statement on all fronts. This slaughter (or “harvest” as people who raise livestock like to call it) was not done in a back alley, like a pit bull fight, nor was it done to satisfy some collective bloodlust or desire to inflict pain. The slaughter was done for a select group of butchers in training (and me as the sole journalist), and expertly conducted by a highly skilled butcher, who had been doing this for over 45 years. The pig was slaughtered on a farm and, to my eyes, was slaughtered in a way that was about as humane and judicious as one would hope for. The thing that made it illegal, or technically sub-legal, was that there were no USDA inspectors present, nor was it done at a USDA-approved slaughterhouse. All of which made this meat unsellable to the public (instead the pig was going to be consumed by friends of the farm owners) and beyond showing the mechanics of an animal slaughter, revealed that simply raising livestock for slaughter is a complicated, and often costly, endeavor.

While many of us omnivores like to think our grass-fed, pasture-raised, meat is hyper-local (the lucky ones among us can actually locate such farms on a map) the fact is that while your meat may have been raised within a few miles of your grill, it wasn’t likely slaughtered and processed anywhere close by. The fact is, because of USDA standards (which most agree are very necessary) most livestock intended for human consumption are trucked, sometimes hundreds of miles away, to meet their maker, which raises the carbon footprint of the pig and cattle and often causes undue stress.

While there used to be numerous slaughterhouses around the country within the farm country where these animals are raised, those numbers have dwindled greatly, leaving very few facilities to address the demand. According to an NPR report, over the past few decades slaughterhouse consolidation has left small-scale producers scrambling. Just four corporations slaughter about 80 percent of the cattle in the United States. Many facilities now only process large numbers of animals at a time, and will not allow ranches to bring in – and get back out – the same animals. This obviously impacts the issue of quality control to a great degree.

While some in the slaughterhouse industry are doing their best to address the problem, with small-scale slaughterhouses popping up in Washington state to handle the backlog of animals, a great deal of creativity and funding is needed to contend with this issue. The rise of mobile slaughterhouse units, which is USDA subsidized and used for very small scale processing of animals on-farm, shows promise. The cost is prohibitive (upwards of $300,000 a piece).

There is seemingly no real answer or solution to this mounting problem, and it is a costly problem for struggling farmers who just want to keep their local meat local and affordable. The hope is that consumer demand for local, pasture-raised meat, with a clear point of origin, will drive innovation toward a more sustainable model.

Do you know where your meat comes from?

Read more: Animal Rights, Blogs, Conscious Consumer, Diet & Nutrition, Environment, Following Food, Food, Nature, Reduce, Recycle & Reuse, , , , , , , ,

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Eric Steinman

Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, NY. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture, and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.

90 comments

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7:51AM PST on Nov 23, 2012

Thanks for sharing

8:24AM PDT on Jul 31, 2012

Factory farms aren't the answer, free range and organic operations are. The mass concentration of a select few slaughterhouses create many problems and the best solution are many local small operations.

Meat eating is not going to end any time soon, many oldsters have eaten beef and pork all their lives and live to be 90.

The main problem is all the toxins put into the meat industry, including veggies that are slathered in pesticides.

Until Mother Nature redesigns life on Earth to exist and survive by eating inorganic rock pate we all survive on eating what once was living. Who are humans to say that plant life such a veggies are less than animal life? Plants technically don't feel but these are living entities as well. If one doesn't wish to eat meat don't but many do and this is not going to change.

7:53AM PDT on Jul 29, 2012

It feels good to be vegetarian, what more can I say...?

4:00PM PDT on Jun 26, 2012

The public needs this info...people are so hard on vegans and vegetarians but they dont understand that we r aware of this we know about this stuff and it makes it impossible to support these butchers and not buying meat is the only way they can hear us....its about the dollars...

3:52PM PDT on Jun 25, 2012

We don't eat much meat anymore for health reasons but when we do, we buy it from a farmer down the road. I watch his animals thrive in his fields and I know they are well cared for. I won't buy from a grocery store...I need to know where my meat is coming from!!

6:26AM PDT on Jun 17, 2012

You are really kidding yourself if you think this industry could ever be 'humane and judicious'. Who judged these pigs and deemed them worthy of death just because some people think they taste good?

4:33PM PDT on Jun 16, 2012

Must be denounced. Please people, do not eat meat.:(

8:44AM PDT on Jun 16, 2012

thanks for sharing :)

3:25AM PDT on Jun 16, 2012

Fiddle-de-dee! Seeing as there's such a glut of humans, perhaps the writer of this article could consent to being done away with in such a humane fashion for the consumption of humans, none of which require his flesh for survival any more than they need the flesh of a poor murdered creature to survive.

6:19PM PDT on Jun 14, 2012

I'm not sure there's any such thing as "humane slaughter" - it's an oxymoron to me. I think the best solution is to be a vegetarian.

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