Keeping meat and jobs ‘local’

June 29, 2012

Mobile slaughterhouses in certain regions of the U.S. could provide local meat processing for small- and mid-sized ranchers. Is a new ‘local’ model emerging?

The eat-local movement concentrates mainly on fruits, vegetables and seafood, and less so on meats and other animal-based products.

That’s because cattle, swine, sheep and goats that are raised on local ranches and farms have typically been processed in large-scale commercial slaughterhouses, perhaps hundreds of miles away. According to National Public Radio research, four corporations slaughter about 80% of the nation’s cattle—and because they process large numbers of animals at a time, small-scale ranchers aren’t assured that the animals they bring in are the same ones they get back in meat.

Under President Obama’s administration, however, mobile slaughterhouses in different regions of the United States are getting attention. In an earlier USDA document from late 2009, Dr. Marcy Osrtom of the Small Farms Program at Washington State University, stated the problem: “A lack of government-inspected, local meat processing facilities has all but smothered sales of local, identity-preserved meat cuts in many regions of the country.”

That document, the Family Farm Forum, described programs in Washington state and Puerto Rico where “mobile slaughter units allow small- and mid-sized livestock producers to avoid trucking their animals long distances to access the few remaining USDA-inspected facilities, while maintaining the unique identity and quality of their farm products.”

By contrast, the NPR report issued this month detailed recent efforts in upstate New York, Vermont and Washington state to “put the local back in local meat.”   Willard Wolf, the president of Cattle Producers of Washington, told NPR:  “The whole idea [of the new slaughterhouse it is building] is to have quality control and humane processing for local cattle, hogs, sheep and goats that provide consumers in the state with [the] locally produced products they are demanding. Having a producer-owned plan will help keep dollars, ranchers and farmers in our communities.”

So this is about jobs as much as it is about meeting consumer demand for local meats and meat products.

That’s expected in this economy, and it’s a message The Lempert Report believes will ring true with consumers everywhere in the country it is voiced.