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.