Where's the Local Beef? - Food & Water Watch | Food & Water Watch
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Luana Conley
June 24th, 2009

Where’s the Local Beef?

Rebuilding Small-Scale Meat Processing Infrastructure

Local beef. Sustainable sausage. They’re what a growing number of people want for dinner. Across the country, demand is increasing for meat from cattle, sheep and other animals raised on the pastures of local and regional farms and ranches.

But satisfying this burgeoning demand is no easy task. Decades of agribusiness and economic trends tilted toward centralizing animal agriculture in industrial factory settings have hollowed out the infrastructure needed to produce and market meat close to population centers. The long, slow demise of local small slaughter and processing operations is now preventing farmers and ranchers from fully satisfying rising consumer demand for meat from sustainably raised livestock.

A rebirth of small slaughterhouses would breathe new life into small communities everywhere, give farmers and ranchers more options for processing their sustainably raised livestock and satisfy growing consumer demand for healthy meatproducts.

This report documents changes in the slaughter and processing industry across the country, identifies the reasons for the disappearance of the small plants, presents examples of next generation processors and suggests policy changes necessary for rebuilding this sector of the meat industry.

Key Findings

• Small slaughter and processing operations have been closing across the country because of industry consolidation, low profit margins, the complexities of federal regulation and difficulty disposing of slaughter byproduct.

• Small slaughter operators are expected to adhere to a regulatory framework that is biased toward large, corporate facilities that can afford the expensive techniques and equipment now incorporated into government inspection requirements.

• Despite the odds stacked against them, some small slaughterhouses and processors are finding ways to survive.

• A variety of public policies, including regulations on food safety, economic development and rules governing livestock markets must change in order to level the playing field for small meat plants.
Read more.