Demand for Local Meat Brings the Butcher Shop to the Farm


It’s a common saga for many small-scale local meat producers: Slaughtering time arrives, but without a butcher or slaughterhouse in a several hundred mile radius. The demand for local foods, including sustainable meat raised nearby, continues to skyrocket. Without a simultaneous rise in the infrastructure necessary to process all these animals fresh off the farm, locally raised meat might end up traveling just as far — if not further — than your standard, packaged supermarket meat product. This whole process equates to a bigger price tag at the meat counter: The costs of transportation and local rancher local meatslaughtering can add to the price of local, grass-fed meat in a big way.

If the meat can't make it to the butcher, then why not bring the butcher shop to the meat? Thus was born the mobile abattoir.  

Where Have All the Local Butchers Gone?

By 2005, a Food & Water Watch Report found that 84 percent of cattle and over 60 percent of hogs in the U.S. were slaughtered by only three — that’s right, three — companies. After the series of beef scares in 2010, this centralization of our meat supply has gone beyond a question of fair business into the territory of food safety and human health. Unfortunately, the regulations enforced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) have encouraged this centralization. The expensive inspection systems make it hard for smaller, local slaughterhouses to remain financially solvent, favoring the big-industry plants that already have these implements in place and can afford the high overhead costs.

Enter the mobile slaughterhouse: A setup complete with the required federal inspector that moves from farm to farm, legally and sanitarily processing whole animals into salable packages. The local butcher is now heading to the country, which could be the answer to making local meat more available — and more affordable. “Despite the odds stacked against them, some small slaughterhouses and processors are finding ways to survive,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. “It’s time for USDA and other government agencies to make sure that their policies work for more than just the largest players in the meat industry.” 

Local Farms + Local Butchers = Local Meat Success

This is the idea that caused Cheryl Ouellette, of Pig Lady’s Summit farm in Wash., to start the Puget Sound Meat Producers Cooperative to run a traveling slaughterhouse. The mobile abattoir consists of a 45-foot-long trailer where livestock are dispatched and made ready for packaging, all without placing a hoof off the farm. Some of the area producers, especially ones who raise a variety of meat animals, are finally finding a way to run a financially soluble business.

The idea is catching on: By fall of 2010, the USDA recognized nine federally inspected “mobile slaughter units.” Coupled with grants from the Rural Development Agency and a compliance guide from the Food Safety and Inspection Service, mobile abattoirs are geared to be part of the answer to helping small processors and establishments reclaim local meat processing systems.  

12/26/2011 10:15:48 PM

Excellent point, Abbey...With about 300 Billion meals eaten in the US each yr, there are only ~1000 deaths from food borne illness, ALL of which could have been prevented by proper cooking. But The Nannycrats love regulations, even when they're directed at the wrong places, because that gives the Trial Lawyers, major contributors of election funds, more fuel for lawsuits...Luckily, Congress has just voted to prevent the proposed GIPSA regulations from going into effect. Those new regs would have guaranteed that all our meat would be of the commercial, mediocre variety by using law suits to put smaller, specialty producers , like grass-fed operations, out of business....Hopefully the upcoming Farm Bill will make state inspection equivalent to USDA, making it easier for small producers to market across state lines.

12/26/2011 9:49:00 PM

My heart goes out to those without a nearby option, and the mobile concept is very interesting. Fortunately, here in Cullman County in north-central Alabama, we are lucky to have the Brickyard Processors, a locally owned and run processing operation. It has been in the same family for years. Besides processing, they have a retail butcher shop which offers a variety of meats--beef, poultry and pork as well as goat (and perhaps others I'm not aware of)--at direct-to-consumer prices. I highly recommend them for anyone in the area which is halfway between Birmingham and Huntsville.

12/26/2011 3:50:56 PM

Many, if not most, are not aware this is not new. The regulations, both federal and state, are largely responsible for them going away. With the new Food Safety Act, it will be even harder and more expensive for them to survive. The expense of doing mobile is so high, it is something only for those fortunate few with enough money to pay for this, not the masses. I have watched as over the years regulations forced people out of the business of butcher and mobile slaughter. Regulations pushed by people too stupid to cook their food properly, or keep a clean kitchen. So now this is where we are, no one to blame but ourselves, always wanting someone else to make sure we are safe, instead of being willing to take some responsiblilty!!

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