Monday, March 29, 2010

It seems like this should have occurred to somebody before now

From the New York Times:
In what could be a major setback for America’s local-food movement, championed by so-called 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.

As a result, they are scaling back on plans to expand their farms because local processors cannot handle any more animals.

“It’s pretty clear there needs to be attention paid to this,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in an interview. “Particularly in the Northeast, where there is indeed a backlog and lengthy wait for slaughter facilities.”

Barry Estabrook had an article about the slaughterhouse abattoir problem in the Northeast back in January, and he argued for a relaxation of the rules on "custom slaughter", which he explained thusly:
He is a freelancer, traveling from farm to farm, killing cattle and hogs and transporting their gutted carcasses to a nearby facility to be cut into parts, wrapped, and frozen. As a means for converting a living steer into meat, the practice has a lot going for it. For one thing, it is as humane as killing an animal can be.
However, "custom slaughter" doesn't have USDA approval, so selling the meat is illegal. A bit of a problem that, but I can certainly see why the Department of Agriculture might have some questions about quality control in that situation. However, from the New York Times article, it seems there is a "mobile" option that is basically a tiny slaughterhouse abattoir on wheels "with a U.S.D.A.-approved butcher and inspector aboard."

Obviously that's got to be pretty expensive to operate, and I have to wonder if there isn't some middle ground to be reached. The NYT mentions a "state inspected" slaughterhouse, where the meat can't be sold across state lines... could "custom slaughter" be certified/inspected in such a way to meet those regulations? I imagine most farmers in Vermont are going to want to sell to all of New England not just within state borders, but it's supposed to be local right? Seems like it might be way to make local meat a bit cheaper and more accessible.

photo by flickr user deCadmus used under a Creative Commons license


  1. There's an excellent regional slaughterhouse in southern Minnesota that does a lot of business with strong producers (see a profile at We also have at least one self-slaughter farm (again, heavy table steps up at

    I think we do better with that sort of thing in the midwest and seem to have more of the needed infrastructure.

  2. I certainly believe it. What's not clear from the article(s), is whether this is specifically a Vermont problem or a more general one. I suspect, since Vermont is the poster child of Local Food... especially here in New England... it's meant to serve as a warning sign to communities who want to try and turn their economies towards local foods. Don't ignore the infrastructure!