Where Have All the Slaughterhouses Gone?

In case you missed its action on Twitter and commentary from foodies all over, the New York Times ran an article this weekend on the state of slaughterhouses in America. While the locavore movement is taking off, many of those independent farmers are having tougher and tougher times finding appointments with local processors. The USDA states that, while the number of slaughterhouses have decreased by almost half since 1992, the number of small farmers have increased by 108,000 just in the past five years. This problem has progressed to a point where even Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack admitted it was a serious issue, especially in the Northeast.

The infrastructure that farmers crave for their highly coveted products is a tricky issue that has a number of caveats. Among the problems associated with opening and maintaining a slaughterhouse are communities that openly reject the idea of slaughterhouses “in their backyard,” and the demand for “skilled management and work force…a good supply of water, a good way of getting rid of waste,” according to Ed Maltby, of Adams Farm, quoted in the NYT article.

One solution in effect now is mobile slaughtering units that can slaughter up to ten animals per day. Undoubtedly, however, this is not going to solve the problem completely. Animals are still getting stressed on the way to slaughter, affecting the meat produced. Member Chef Bill Telepan put it succinctly “There are a lot of people out there who raise great animals for us to use, and they don’t have the opportunity to get them to us…”

Because the issue is so relevant, it’s been drawing attention from voices in the food industry everywhere, including Board Member Tom Philpott. The complete article can be found here.

Join the conversation; what are your thoughts on the slaughterhouse issue?

Photo courtesy of Ard Hesselink

Posted by: Chefs Collaborative

5 Responses to “Where Have All the Slaughterhouses Gone?”

  1. pete Says:

    The reason so many butchers have closed is because of Federal regulations. The NYT article mentions this with a date of 1999, but the problem really goes back farther than that.

    Regulations raise the cost of business for small operations, putting them at competitive disadvantage or even making it impossible to continue operating. This drives out the smaller, less risky operations while leaving us with just the large packing houses that are the ones actually causing the food safety problems.

  2. Chef John Lindell Says:

    Processers seem to be busy here in central Illinois. It took Bedinger Farms over two weeks to get the last lamb I bought from them processed because of the backlog. Getting locally raised St. Croix Hair Sheep lambs from them is worth the wait although it slowed down putting out a spring menu. Thanks for the info! Chef John Lindell

  3. Elizabeth Kennedy Says:

    Chef Lindell,
    It’s a shame to see the extent of these problems, but incredibly important in order to find solutions. We would love to hear any and all experiences you’ve had.

  4. Elizabeth Kennedy Says:

    Pete, Sounds like you’ve had some direct experience with this issue. Have you seen any other innovative solutions?

  5. Chef Fairbanks Says:

    The REAL problem with meat processing plants, be it corporate or privately owned is:
    1. Turnover/lack of training coupled with supply/demand pressure vs. price competition. (we all wan’t cheap, affordable AND quality.)
    2. Lack of trained inspectors to police facilities. Hence the infractions by the big guys.
    If you don’t believe, check out USAJOBS and see how many openings there are for them.
    This is what makes it easy for U.S. Peanut Corp. to re-sample until they can force bad product through. Plus the weigh-in of risk vs. profit loss becomes easier to sleep with.
    3. How much will your customer pay! If the only thing that mattered was quality, we would only serve serve the highest grade. The rest would be sold to make hamburger out of. John Q. Public is just as much to blame as the industry. Quit buying cheap product, buy from the few small guys who are trying to survive, pay the higher price, inform your patrons of what they are getting, and take the high road. The motto of our industry is supposed to be “Haute Cuisine”

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