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USDA Study Shows Gaps in Local Meat Infrastructure

A preliminary study revealed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) yesterday maps exactly where gaps exist in the local meat processing infrastructure by showing the availability of slaughter facilities for small and very small producers.

The maps were released yesterday during an agency briefing on the ‘Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food’ initiative, which recently took some heat from Republicans in the Senate.

Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and two other Republicans seated on the Senate agriculture committee sent a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack earlier this month criticizing the initiative for focusing on “hobbyist and organic producers whose customers generally consist of affluent patrons at urban farmers markets.”

Yesterday’s briefing–which Vilsack, as well as Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan both participated in–was meant to clarify the goals of the local food initiative, as well as provide some details on the various interagency-coordinated projects underway. In addition to mapping local meat infrastructure, the briefing discussed regional food distribution hubs, the status of the Environmental Quality Incentives Program hoop house pilot program, and the local foods component of USDA’s Business and Industry Loan Program.

According to the agency, the assessment of slaughter availability for small producers was done to identify regions in the U.S. with “relatively high densities of small livestock and poultry producers, but without a nearby slaughter facility,” so that eventually assistance can be provided to existing and new facilities.

Supporting slaughter availability for small livestock and poultry producers will benefit both local food systems and the public health, the agency said in a presentation given to reporters.

When asked whether USDA’s initiative to support local meat infrastructure will lead to an increase in the number of meat inspectors, Matthew Michael, director of program evaluation and improvement at FSIS, told Food Safety News that the agency “hadn’t gotten to that point yet,” as the initiative is just beginning. Michael added that, while FSIS supports the local food initiatives, the agency’s efforts are primarily regulatory.

The USDA defines small slaughter establishments as having between 10 and 499 employees, very small ones have fewer than 10 employees, or less than $2.5 million in annual sales. Small livestock and poultry producers are defined as having annual sales of $250,000 or less.

See the full report – with U.S. maps on slaughter availability for cattle, poultry, and hogs.

© Food Safety News
  • It is interesting that this article was written to illustrate the gaps in local meat infrastructure, yet featured a map of state inspected plants instead of federally inspected plants. To paint the most accurate picture, the map should feature both. This has selectively left out states like PA that does not have a state inspection system, rather federal only.

  • jmunsell

    USDA/FSIS is now attempting to resolve a problem it created itself. When the agency implemented its allegedly “science based” HACCP meat inspection program, the agency deregulated the large slaughter plants, while it has hyper-regulated the small plants out of existence. At the small plants, HACCP has degenerated into a paper chase, effectively swamping small plant owners with mountains of meaningless paperwork, most of which has no connection to food safety. The agency also threw out previously-existing national standards upon HACCP’s advent. In its place, FSIS now expects small plant owners to scientifically prove that every aspect of their daily operations can be independently proven to successfully produce safe meat. Mission Impossible. Also, the agency is grossly inconsistent in accepting or rejecting “scientific justifications” from one plant to another: scientific articles which are accepted at one plant, are dismissed at other plants as being inadequate or incomplete.
    The Foundation for Accountability in Regulatory Enforcement (FARE) commissioned a study in 2005 to determine the extent of departures of small plants from USDA Inspection. Between 2000 & 2005, approximately 22% of small processing plants dropped federal inspection. During the same time frame, 19% of small slaughter plants exited federal inspection. Since 2005, the same trend has continued. These plants are not dropping inspection or closing their doors because of an alleged inability to produce safe meat. Rather, owners of these plants are exasperrated at continually changing FSIS demands, nonsensical policies, and anger at a meat inspection system which is based in political science and science fiction. These plant owners move on to other occupations, or become a custom exempt plant which have fewer marketing opportunities in the lack of inspection.
    Further exacerbating this dilemma is USDA’s forwarding all liability downstream for meat which was previously contaminated at the large source originating slaughter establishments. The largest four slaughter companies kill 88% of our feedlot animals. When they fabricate these animal carcasses into component cuts, vacuum pack the cuts, and ship the meat to customers downstream, all beef cuts which harbor invisible E.coli and/or Salmonella bacteria end up at further processing plants which have become unwitting victims of innocently purchasing contaminated meat which bears the official USDA Mark of Inspection. When the contamination is subsequently detected at the further processing plants, or even further downstream such as in restaurants, retail meat markets, and institutional cafeterias, USDA officially places all liability against the downstream DESTINATION facility, intentionally insulating the SOURCE slaughter plant from any responsibility.
    USDA itself admits that 93% of its Federal plants are small, and they only produce 10% of our meat. Conversely, while only 7% of federal plants are large, they produce 90% of our meat. The plants which produce 90% of our meat have political clout, and enjoy the financial wherewithal to challenge FSIS if the agency were to ever attempt meaningful enforcement actions at the behemoth SOURCE slaughter plants. Small plants have no clout, and even less finances, and as such are much easier enforcement prey for an agency wishing to portray a public image as being the ever-vigilant, 24/7 protector of public health. The ever-declining number of small plants is the guaranteed result.
    On the one hand, USDA’s HACCP Hoax is decimating America’s countryside of small, local plants catering to local livestock producers’ needs. Now, the agency’s “Know your Farmer, Know your Food” program desires a resurgence of small plants. Too late. Ironically, while increasing numbers of livestock producers desire to provide niche meat to consumers (hormone free, grass fed, Made in Montana, etc), the producers now have fewer slaughter/processing facilities which can provide necessary services. Frequently these livestock producers must truck their animals over long distances just to access inspected processing plants, a sizeable financial disincentive.
    Are President Obama and Ag Sec Vilsack cognizant of USDA’s counter productive policies? Are they disengenuously trumpeting an alleged committment to promoting rural America? If they are not aware of the problems I describe above, they had best start by mandating long overdue changes within USDA meat inspection, which would then enable small plants to operate under the USDA meat inspection umbrella. If President Obama and Sec Vilsack maintain the broken status quo in meat inspection, then all their efforts to connect consumers with local food producers will be in vain.
    My concern is that the Oval Office, our Legislative Branch, and the Secretary of Agriculture have zero control over the actions of career bureaucrats within USDA/FSIS, who essentially are accountable to no one. These agency lifers turn a deaf ear to the President, and to the President’s Ag Sec, knowing that both individuals will be gone in 4 or 8 years. The agency bureaucrats dismiss the desires of the “transient” President and Ag Secretary, and do as they darned well desire, which in this case is 180 degrees contrary to the President’s “Know your Farmer” philosophy.
    If we desire safer food, and consider reenergizing America’s rural ag producers to be a desired goal, we must replace all of USDA’s career bureaucrats with fresh blood. Without this, all claims to “Know your Farmer” are but empty clamoring.
    John Munsell

  • Hi Chris,
    Thanks for your comment. The maps available to us separated slaughter facilities by type of livestock — cattle, pig and hog, and chicken slaughter facilities are all shown on different maps. All maps are available through the link at the bottom of the story. We apologize for any confusion.
    http://www.foodsafetynews.com/slaughter-availability.pdf

  • hhamil

    Thanks very much, Ms. Bottemiller, for updating this on FSN!
    Related to this, MeatingPlace.com also reports today, “The slaughterhouse initiative comes as small and very small slaughterhouses argue that USDA’s call for updated HACCP validation would put them out of business. However, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said during the press briefing, ‘The reality is that is not the case.’ He said USDA seeks to offer clarification on what already is required rather than impose new requirements, such as more pathogen testing.
    USDA is in the process of contacting processors and clarifying its position, Merrigan added.”

  • hbottemiller

    Mr. Hamil – Thanks for the comment. See FSN next week for an update on this. We thought it warranted a separate story. 🙂

  • John Munsell

    USDA/FSIS is now attempting to resolve a problem it created itself. When the agency implemented its allegedly “science based” HACCP meat inspection program, the agency deregulated the large slaughter plants, while it has hyper-regulated the small plants out of existence. At the small plants, HACCP has degenerated into a paper chase, effectively swamping small plant owners with mountains of meaningless paperwork, most of which has no connection to food safety. The agency also threw out previously-existing national standards upon HACCP’s advent. In its place, FSIS now expects small plant owners to scientifically prove that every aspect of their daily operations can be independently proven to successfully produce safe meat. Mission Impossible. Also, the agency is grossly inconsistent in accepting or rejecting “scientific justifications” from one plant to another: scientific articles which are accepted at one plant, are dismissed at other plants as being inadequate or incomplete.
    The Foundation for Accountability in Regulatory Enforcement (FARE) commissioned a study in 2005 to determine the extent of departures of small plants from USDA Inspection. Between 2000 & 2005, approximately 22% of small processing plants dropped federal inspection. During the same time frame, 19% of small slaughter plants exited federal inspection. Since 2005, the same trend has continued. These plants are not dropping inspection or closing their doors because of an alleged inability to produce safe meat. Rather, owners of these plants are exasperrated at continually changing FSIS demands, nonsensical policies, and anger at a meat inspection system which is based in political science and science fiction. These plant owners move on to other occupations, or become a custom exempt plant which have fewer marketing opportunities in the lack of inspection.
    Further exacerbating this dilemma is USDA’s forwarding all liability downstream for meat which was previously contaminated at the large source originating slaughter establishments. The largest four slaughter companies kill 88% of our feedlot animals. When they fabricate these animal carcasses into component cuts, vacuum pack the cuts, and ship the meat to customers downstream, all beef cuts which harbor invisible E.coli and/or Salmonella bacteria end up at further processing plants which have become unwitting victims of innocently purchasing contaminated meat which bears the official USDA Mark of Inspection. When the contamination is subsequently detected at the further processing plants, or even further downstream such as in restaurants, retail meat markets, and institutional cafeterias, USDA officially places all liability against the downstream DESTINATION facility, intentionally insulating the SOURCE slaughter plant from any responsibility.
    USDA itself admits that 93% of its Federal plants are small, and they only produce 10% of our meat. Conversely, while only 7% of federal plants are large, they produce 90% of our meat. The plants which produce 90% of our meat have political clout, and enjoy the financial wherewithal to challenge FSIS if the agency were to ever attempt meaningful enforcement actions at the behemoth SOURCE slaughter plants. Small plants have no clout, and even less finances, and as such are much easier enforcement prey for an agency wishing to portray a public image as being the ever-vigilant, 24/7 protector of public health. The ever-declining number of small plants is the guaranteed result.
    On the one hand, USDA’s HACCP Hoax is decimating America’s countryside of small, local plants catering to local livestock producers’ needs. Now, the agency’s “Know your Farmer, Know your Food” program desires a resurgence of small plants. Too late. Ironically, while increasing numbers of livestock producers desire to provide niche meat to consumers (hormone free, grass fed, Made in Montana, etc), the producers now have fewer slaughter/processing facilities which can provide necessary services. Frequently these livestock producers must truck their animals over long distances just to access inspected processing plants, a sizeable financial disincentive.
    Are President Obama and Ag Sec Vilsack cognizant of USDA’s counter productive policies? Are they disengenuously trumpeting an alleged committment to promoting rural America? If they are not aware of the problems I describe above, they had best start by mandating long overdue changes within USDA meat inspection, which would then enable small plants to operate under the USDA meat inspection umbrella. If President Obama and Sec Vilsack maintain the broken status quo in meat inspection, then all their efforts to connect consumers with local food producers will be in vain.
    My concern is that the Oval Office, our Legislative Branch, and the Secretary of Agriculture have zero control over the actions of career bureaucrats within USDA/FSIS, who essentially are accountable to no one. These agency lifers turn a deaf ear to the President, and to the President’s Ag Sec, knowing that both individuals will be gone in 4 or 8 years. The agency bureaucrats dismiss the desires of the “transient” President and Ag Secretary, and do as they darned well desire, which in this case is 180 degrees contrary to the President’s “Know your Farmer” philosophy.
    If we desire safer food, and consider reenergizing America’s rural ag producers to be a desired goal, we must replace all of USDA’s career bureaucrats with fresh blood. Without this, all claims to “Know your Farmer” are but empty clamoring.
    John Munsell

  • Hi Chris,
    Thanks for your comment. The maps available to us separated slaughter facilities by type of livestock — cattle, pig and hog, and chicken slaughter facilities are all shown on different maps. All maps are available through the link at the bottom of the story. We apologize for any confusion.
    http://www.foodsafetynews.com/slaughter-availability.pdf

  • Harry Hamil

    Thanks very much, Ms. Bottemiller, for updating this on FSN!
    Related to this, MeatingPlace.com also reports today, “The slaughterhouse initiative comes as small and very small slaughterhouses argue that USDA’s call for updated HACCP validation would put them out of business. However, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said during the press briefing, ‘The reality is that is not the case.’ He said USDA seeks to offer clarification on what already is required rather than impose new requirements, such as more pathogen testing.
    USDA is in the process of contacting processors and clarifying its position, Merrigan added.”

  • Helena Bottemiller

    Mr. Hamil – Thanks for the comment. See FSN next week for an update on this. We thought it warranted a separate story. 🙂

  • hhamil

    Thanks for the update, Ms. Bottemiller. I look forward to reading it.
    And thanks very much, John Munsell, for a succinct description of the impact of the HACCP Hoax that is inexorably reducing the overall food safety in America by legislatively requiring fake HACCP programs. The overall results of this industrial-size-fits-all regulation include
    1) a weaker food safety system that favors large businesses over small;
    2) increasing consolidation of all food processing (not just meat) and distribution;
    3) less food security due to fewer food sources;
    4) greater reliance on imported food;
    5) loss of jobs;
    6) less truly healthy (and, therefore, truly safe) food available to all but affluent Americans.

  • Harry Hamil

    Thanks for the update, Ms. Bottemiller. I look forward to reading it.
    And thanks very much, John Munsell, for a succinct description of the impact of the HACCP Hoax that is inexorably reducing the overall food safety in America by legislatively requiring fake HACCP programs. The overall results of this industrial-size-fits-all regulation include
    1) a weaker food safety system that favors large businesses over small;
    2) increasing consolidation of all food processing (not just meat) and distribution;
    3) less food security due to fewer food sources;
    4) greater reliance on imported food;
    5) loss of jobs;
    6) less truly healthy (and, therefore, truly safe) food available to all but affluent Americans.

  • Doc Mudd

    *”Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and two other Republicans seated on the Senate agriculture committee sent a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack earlier this month criticizing the initiative for focusing on “hobbyist and organic producers whose customers generally consist of affluent patrons at urban farmers markets.”*
    .
    It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to agree with much of anything John McCain mutters, but this time he and his colleagues on the Senate Agriculture Committee have it exactly right.
    .
    Will there be programs to build up all expensive hobbies (boating, stock car racing, betting the horses, collecting objects d’art, etc., etc.), or is this reserved exclusively for backyard menageries and their gourmand customers?
    .
    The maps in the PDF didn’t look all that sparcely served when one considers state and federal plants, as Chris R. points out. So, we’re thinking of installing and staffing slaughter plants, one for each how many hobbyists? What if the hobby farming fad doesn’t catch on, then what? I’m betting used slaughter houses are no easier to sell than used boats.
    .
    The idea of our taxes subsidizing more little slaughter plants serving isolated pockets of affluent duffers is annoying enough. Operating more plants with no preventive protocols, no traceback and little sanitation oversight, to appease the anti-food safety, anti-S.510 cult, seems nothing short of insane. Instead, let’s buy every local garden club a blue-water charter boat and plenty of fuel but no training, no fire extinguishers and no life jackets…oh, and no Coast Guard patrols.

  • Just be careful.. The government is taking over health care, energy and much of the economy. Watch Honduras, Venezuela, and the whole OAS! If they control your food and water too, we are done. Chavez now raids homes and steals their food stashes even though they have warehouses full of food going to waste. Our current administration admires Chavez and state so openly.