Lack of Slaughter Capacity an Issue for Farm-to-Table Restaurants

Bloomberg writer Deena Shanker reported earlier this week that, “Despite ever-increasing customer demand for noncommodity meat, there aren’t enough slaughterhouses to keep up. It’s a major hitch in the supply chain—keeping supplies down, prices up, and making the already grueling job of farming even harder.”

The article indicated that, “Even at Blue Hill, which exemplifies the aspirational closed-loop, farm-to-table meal, slaughter of pigs and sheep requires a trip off premises. Under USDA regulations, farm staff must take these animals to a federally inspected facility to serve it at the restaurant or sell it at the Stone Barns store, though an exemption for small amounts of poultry staying in the state allows them to slaughter their chickens, turkeys, and ducks in an on-site, state-certified facility.

“Stone Barns is more fortunate than many other farms, said Jack Algiere, the Center’s farm director. The slaughterhouse is ‘very close, considering,’ he says. Others are forced to ‘drive two, three, four hours for processing.'”

The Bloomberg article added that, “While the situation varies from species to species and state to state, sellers of noncommodity pork, beef, and chicken agree: there simply aren’t enough facilities to humanely and safely kill their animals.

“The numbers are stark. In 1967 there were 9,627 livestock (cattle, calf, hog and sheep) slaughtering establishments in the U.S. That same year, Congress passed the Wholesome Meat Act, requiring producers to use a USDA-inspected facility if they sell meat across state lines. A mass consolidation of the meat industry followed. Today, commodity meat is dominated by large companies. Just four companies sell about 85% of America’s beef and the pork and chicken markets are similarly controlled by huge corporations. By 2016, there were only about 1,100 federally inspected meat and poultry slaughterhouses in the country.

“But customers are increasingly demanding free-range meat from smaller producers that, largely because of the lack of slaughterhouse, aren’t able to supply it fast or cheap enough. Volume sales for free-range meat, for example, was up 26.9 percent in 2016, while conventional was down 0.5 percent, according to data from Nielsen Fresh.”

This week’s article stated that, “Just a handful of large slaughterhouses handle a disproportionate amount of that American meat: Of those approximately 1,100 facilities, 215 large slaughter establishments (defined as 500 or more employees) produce about 75 percent to 90 percent of the country’s volume. At the Smithfield plant in Tar Heel, N.C., for example, approximately 30,000 to 34,000 hogs are reportedly slaughtered each day. At the other end of the spectrum is Dealaman, the only federally inspected hog slaughterhouse in New Jersey, which processes a paltry 1,200 pigs a week.

“The explanations for the struggles of the small slaughterhouses vary but inevitably come down to two interrelated factors—regulations that favor large meatpackers and uneven enforcement of those regulations.”

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