Washington, D.C. — A new report issued today by Food & Water Watch examines how the slow demise of local small slaughter and processing operations in the U.S. is preventing farmers and ranchers from fully satisfying rising consumer demand for meat from sustainably raised livestock. Entitled Where’s the Local Beef?, the report identifies the reasons for the disappearance of small plants, presents examples of the next generation of processors and offers policy solutions to rebuild the small slaughterhouse sector of the meat industry.
“The decline of small slaughter and processing operations in the U.S. is part of a general trend in agriculture toward the industrial model of food production,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. “A variety of public policies, including USDA food safety regulations, economic development programs and rules governing livestock markets must change in order to level the playing field for small meat plants.”
Key findings of the report include:
- 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.
- Changes to USDA‚ meat inspection program to help rebuild local meat processing infrastructure that include providing resources for small plants such as generic food safety plans, performing microbiological testing based on the volume of production and conducting investigations to find the source of contamination when it is first detected at small plants that do not slaughter animals.
“Despite the odds stacked against them, some small slaughterhouses and processors are finding ways to survive,” said Hauter. “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.”