The New York Times reports that although demand for locally grown meat is increasing, the shrinking number of slaughterhouses is creating a bottleneck.

In what could be a major setback for America’s local-food movement, championed by so-called locavores, independent farmers around the country say they are forced to make slaughter appointments before animals are born and to drive hundreds of miles to facilities, adding to their costs and causing stress to livestock.

As a result, they are scaling back on plans to expand their farms because local processors cannot handle any more animals.

Why the reduction?

Mr. Quenneville said a number of small, family-owned slaughterhouses started closing when strict federal rules regarding health control went into effect in 1999. Large corporations like Cargill also began to take over much of the nation’s meat market.

One solution: mobile units.

The mobile unit goes from farm to farm with a U.S.D.A.-approved butcher and inspector aboard. It contains heaters, potable water and dumps wastewater at RV stations.

Another solution: reduce the regulations and let small farmers butcher their own meat. Of course, not all want to do this, but if a small farmer wants to butcher a few steers in his barn and sell the meat to neighbors or local restaurants, why should the USDA get in the way? A farmer has incentive to give his neighbors a good product, and people should be free to buy meat they judge to be the best. If that meat happens to come from the farm down the road, so much the better.

H/T Darrel Cox

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Mark T. Mitchell
Mark T. Mitchell is the co-founder of Front Porch Republic. He is the Dean of Academic Affairs at Patrick Henry College and the author of several books including Plutocratic Socialism, Power and Purity, The Limits of Liberalism, The Politics of Gratitude, and Localism in Mass Age: A Front Porch Republic Manifesto (co-editor).


  1. What is amazing is how ineffective the regulations are at insuring the food supply. Indeed, as the regulators force consolidation into huge factories, the dangers grow, not lessen.

  2. Thanks, Mark, for the link, and for the reminder that this lack of facilities is a real issue. The USDA does make certain exceptions for small-scale on-farm slaughtering of meat that can then be sold, but many state health departments do not. My state, for example, does not. Part of the bottleneck is here.

  3. The problem sounds like a mixture of under capitalization for both private and public investment. Both competition and food safety monitoring like bank regulation was virtually abandoned by the Republicans after over-dosing on the naive Libertarian belief that markets were self-correcting and self-regulating.

  4. This post rings very true. When my wife and I inherited the family place in the late 1980’s, there were two slaughterhouses within 25 miles that focused on poultry, and two within 5 miles to butcher cattle, sheep, and pigs. There is now one for poultry and none left for large stock within 5 miles. The nearest and cleanest went out of business by choice rather than submit to the increasing regulations of the servile state. I have no doubt that the large corporations customized the regulations to drive out their small competitors.

    The biggest challenge on small farms is not the farming, it is the lack of support infrastructure. This applies not only to slaughterhouses, but implements/parts, livestock auctions, and services like feed grinding. I am pretty sure there is a direct correlation between the economic health of small farms and the distance to a slaughterhouse or independent feed and seed dealer.

    The other side of the decline in slaughterhouses is the hard, bloody, smelly work. One remaining local small facility is using Guatemalan help because the native sons of Pennsylvania now spurn such work (though fair wages may at issue as well).

    I also think the Business Government oligarchs will actually increase efforts to regulate as the economy worsens. I suspect profit margins are very slim in industrial agribiz on a per unit basis. They are more scared of people like me (and consumers like Front Porchers)
    than maybe we are of them. My guess is more news stories about “deadly raw milk” and “unsafe free range chickens”. Thanks again for posting this


  5. These food issues are good because the expose in rather lurid detail certain facts about Govt/Biz collusion that are less obvious when compared to the arcane world of Central Banks.

    The operative phrase in the above story is, “with a U.S.D.A.-approved butcher and inspector aboard.” It leaves out that the USDA Inspector also has his own bathroom (as mandataed by the regulations).

    The regulations for on-farm processing are the perfect place to unravel the myths that most Americans hold about free-enterprise. Where one assumes that the regulations would be about levels of E.Coli, Campylobacter, safe and humane treatment of animals, etc. One will be surprised to see regulations which dictate the size and type of parking lot (must be paved, by the way), the afore mentioned USDA bathroom – and place to dress, as well as universal requirements for chilling the carcass that do not account for the differences in carcass size, type and layers of fat (thereby often ruining the meat of grassfed competitors). In short, they have written detailed specifications on how to build a modern multi-million dollar CAFO slaughter house that can only be funded via CAFO practices – and labeled the exercise, “Health Regulation”. It is quite literally the definition of anti-competitive regulation designed to erect enormous barriers to entry and to perpetuate the CAFO feedlots.

    The story of the mobile abbatoir is unique in that they found a way to fulfill the letter, if not, the spirit of the laws. Interestingly, it was in the radical breaking of the model that they were able to circumvent some of the requirements that were built into the model… loopholes that will likely be “fixed” as the regulations are updated.

    As a starting point, the coalition that forms around food issues is probably the best place to start to expose the evils of corporate-statism; ironically, it was the liberal commie-dem (pace Cheeks), Michael Pollan, who did more for local farming than the Nation’s most famous/vocal Anarcho-Capitalist Farmer (Joel Salatin), or even a thousand “conservative” Farm Bureaus.

  6. Moreover, in 2007, one premium processor wanted to test its beef for BSE (Mad Cow) as a value-add for its high-end customers.

    That didn’t sit too well with the USDA (our champions of food safety):

    “The Bush administration said today it will fight to keep meatpackers from testing all their animals for bovine spongiform encephalopathy.

    The Agriculture Department tests less than one percent of slaughtered cows for the disease, which can be fatal to humans who eat tainted beef. But Kansas-based Creekstone Farms Premium Beef wants to test all of its cows.

    Larger meat companies feared that move because, if Creekstone tested its meat and advertised it as safe, they might have to perform the expensive test, too.”

    My point here, besides gilding the lilly, is that Food Policy is a better Political rallying-point than Tax or High-Finance Policies. The former allows for a broad coalition that can easily put Govt/Biz on the defensive, the latter is a defensive position where Govt/Biz owns all the levers and can fracture the coalition by co-opting groups by picking new winners in the Tax code.

  7. March, owning a small holding for thirty years I have a great deal of sympathy for the unfortunate circumstances of the “Richards” of the world. And, being a republican as opposed to a Republican, I would greatly reduce the associated bureaucracies that burden the lives of so many.
    I used to buy ‘fresh’ milk and eggs from an organic farmer who went to federal prison for tax evasion…and this long before you were born and came to learn of the theory of distributism.
    I’d contemplated selling out the olde homestead, but then, where would we hold our militia meetings?

  8. Marchmaine should spend more time reading the posts and comments before leaping to conclusions. Mr. Cheeks is far from a Republican or conservative apologist. Most folks here have conservative and reactionary tendencies only in so far as they wish to 1) conserve whatever is good (if anything) in the contemporary world, and 2) bring whatever may have been good, true, and beautiful from the past into the present.

    As for Mr. Pollan and Mr. Salatin, I think there is room for both types and many more to boot. Mr. Salatin, by the way, featured significantly in The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Also, Mr. Pollan is a well connected professor at Cal-Berkeley and a writer for the New York Times. He is in a position where he can reach a broader, more politically influential audience. Mr. Salatin is a farmer who usually writes practical farming books. Mr. Salatin has provided much direct, practical help to small farmers, including providing internships to young farmers. I’m not sure it makes much sense to pit them one against the other.

  9. Actually, this time I was not baiting Cheeks… rather an homage. Nor am I pitting Salatin (who is an acquaintance) against Pollan – though I admit the sentence is phrased awkwardly.

    The food issue is where commie-dems (again, homage) begin to see that the state may not honor obligations to health and safety that commie-dems assume it holds supreme – and they see it despite the voluble farmer prose of the anarcho-capitalists.

  10. I think I get Marchmaines’ point, and he is right. The food issue is a natural place where the the hippie and the redneck can be friends.

    Bob Cheeks,
    What do you do on your smallholding besides militia meetings?

  11. Richard, “redneck” whoa!
    As for the ‘holdings’ half is woods and this past year I’ve been harvesting the native deciduous, after I observed the number of trees that had blown over, been struck by lighening, and dying from sundry tree diseases.
    I make hay on the field, with my neighbor down the road.
    I see my little ‘militia’ joke may get me yet another interview with the federalis….oh, well!
    Where you at? I’m in eastern Ohio near the west fork of the Little Beaver Creek, or as we say in these parts, ‘crick.’

  12. “The Agriculture Department tests less than one percent of slaughtered cows for the disease, which can be fatal to humans who eat tainted beef.”

    Is there any actual proof that variant CJD is linked to BSE in cows? I’m British so I’ve heard a lot about this disease but I didn’t think there was proper proof.

  13. Bob,
    I meant neither “redneck” or “hippie” as pejoratives. I use the former to refer to myself.

    Our front porches are not that far apart, and we speak the same native tongue. I live near Slippery Rock Crick a few miles southwest of Grove City. I am only about a half hour from the Ohio border.

    Forest farming is interesting, and sometimes even profitable. I love working in my woodlot.

    It is not a militia, but I do loan the back of my farm out to a volunteer rifle shooting and American heritage program (Revolutionary War Veterans Association While it is a totally apolitical nonprofit, I am awaiting my interview!

  14. Wessexman, I don’t know the answer to your question, though I’m not sure it would alter the line of reasoning.

    The USDA fundamentally derives its authority to regulate on the basis of Public Health and Safety; It manipulate public fears around BSE, E.coli, and tainted foods in general into regulations that favor agri-business, centralized food production, and generally exacerbate the tainted food problems.

    The one thing we can demonstrate is that the USDA is _not_ interested in testing for the safety of the food… as was illustrated in the court order to cease and desist testing for BSE.

    The USDA only regulates the process, never the outcome; it insists you practice bad Agri-business (thereby preventing competition) and prohibits producers from testing its food to demonstrate it is safe as one way to “pass” regulations.

    Another famous case of the USDA running screens for Agri-business was its legal fight to prevent producers from labeling their milk rBGH (artificial growth hormone) free. The producers were not making any claims about rBGH, just that their cows were not injected with it. One would think this would be a fair differentiator for a small subset of consumers who were starting to wonder why cows were being injected with growth hormones at all; the USDA saw it differently and went to court to stop the practice.

    All I’m suggesting is that the local food movement attacks a softer less defensible position in the bureaucratic state’s armor; people can readily see that whole milk tastes better, is in fact healthier, and is perfectly safe to drink far more easily than they can understand the creation of money by privatized banks, or derivatives and other fiscal devices.

    What is lacking right now is a certain amount of thought leadership, good research, and a few folks with an advocate’s flair for thinking and speaking well on their feet.

    Food does not attract the same attention and glamor as money; but I suspect it is a better place to build a movement or drive home some points.

  15. Richard,

    Dude, I’m not sensitive, being addressed as a ‘redneck’ is at least an accurate salutation.
    Yes, I worked in Hubbard and I’ve been to Grove City where the famous, no-gummint money, college is located.
    Re: the Revolutionary War, my four or five times great-grandpap, Tom Dickerson, served honorably and valorously in the 8th Penna Regiment of the line and Morgan’s Rifles at Saratoga, wintering over that dark, gloomy, and sparse winter on a Pennsyltucky hillside known as Valley Forge. With his time served young Mr. Dickerson went back home to Catfish Camp, Pennsyltucky (Little Washington) became a Captain in a company of border scouts, guarded the Ohio River against the depredations of the Ohio Nations, and served in the less-than-successful Squaw Campaign.
    Tom’s two cousins, Vachel and Kinzie Dickerson, where the only white men Lewis Wetzel took with him into the Ohio Country on his scalp hunts.
    Tom’s pension request of 1801, declared him to be in a condition of “reduced circumstances,” however the record shows that not only did he farm 640 fecund Ohio acres, he acted as the High Sheriff’s livery where he maintained stolen horses at county expense.
    The gummint generously granted Pvt. Thomas Dickerson’s Revolutionary War Pension Request. He was awarded $8/month for the rest of his life.
    My dad used to take us down to that farm in the 1950’s where I met Tom Dickerson’s grandson, my great-Uncle Bob, a large man from a large family; a man who kept his stock in good fresh, and plowed his fields on the level!
    I’ll have to come up and visit, I’ll bring the wife!

  16. If hunters can dress deer local folks can dress cattle. I have seen it done in the third world in my youth. To get the USDA & the local yokels out of the way, you have to own the animal first.

    A number of individuals can select which cuts they want and agree to pay the proportionate cost of the animal and its preparation; when the cost of the entire animal (and its preparation) is spoken for, its ownership is transferred to the group. Not all the members of the group need to be physically present. The group may arrange to have local assistance in slaughtering and dressing if they wish.

  17. Robin Datta,
    sale of a live animal is indeed an option, but the only groups that seem to be willing to do this today are from the Third World. We have sold live lambs on-farm to Middle Eastern People and allowed them to butcher them on site.

    Many people do not even want to harvest their own plant foods. I have a friend who owns a successful pick your own fruit and vegetable farm. When we visit, 90 percent of his customers are either Amish or from other countries (mostly Europe).

  18. @Bob Cheeks

    I too am descended from the Dickerson boys… My mother was an historian, and named me for Vachel Dickerson. I grew up on the tales of their exploits. I specifically remember hearing about a scouting trip, during which they (Vachel, Kinzie, and Lewis Wetzel) captured a native, and were bringing him back. When he couldn’t keep up with them, they tomahawked him and went home.

    I’d be interested in finding out what kind of cousins we are.

    chalatso “at” gmail “dot” com

  19. This isn’t about political parties…. They are all padding their pockets with money from these gigantic soul-sucking companies in the food industry… They are out for a profit and in doing so will knowingly compromise their fellow human beings health for more money.. You can bet they don’t eat the same stuff as us…. They know what is in it and it’s not good enough for them. It’s all GMO’d in some way, shape or form period. They attack any and all natural farmers who don’t abide by their rules, and our courts and politicians on all sides know about it, and are too cowardly to speak out. The bottom line is these massive food companies give us poison food and make billions and billions of dollars off of it. It is in all of our products, just take a little look, and those in power just turn there heads while money appears in their pockets. This is premeditated, and someday they will be held accountable for their actions. God Help Them.

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