if it Food & Water Watch, a Washington, D.C.-based consumer group, has released a report examining how the decline of local, small slaughter and meat processing operations in the United States is impacting the supply of natural, organic and "sustainably" raised meat options. Entitled Where’s the Local Beef?, the report identifies reasons for the decline of small plants, presents examples of the next generation of processors and offers policy solutions to rebuild the small slaughterhouse sector.

“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.”

The report's key findings 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 disposal challenges 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 techniques and equipment now incorporated into government inspection requirements.
  • Changes to USDA’s 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 production volume and conducting investigations to find contamination source 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.”

Read Where’s the Local Beef?