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 slaughtering 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.
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.”
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.
Have any plans, or know of, a mobile slaughterhouse in your area? Have thoughts on how this can help the local food movement? Tell us about it in the comments section below!
Jennifer Kongs is the Managing Editor at MOTHER EARTH NEWS magazine. When she’s not working at the magazine, she’s likely working in her garden, on the local running trails or in her kitchen instead. You can find Jennifer on Twitter or Google+.
Photo Credit: istockphoto.com/Danny35463