More options for meat producers who market local

Feb 7, 2014
by WLJ

— Direct marketers have more control, receive higher prices, says USDA

Consumer demand for locally-grown foods and locally-raised meat, poultry and eggs has grown. After a decline of small farms and slaughterhouses in the 1990s, the U.S. has seen a resurgence in small, locally-owned operations. According to Whole Foods Market, consumers are asking about locally-sourced meats and want to know if the animal was raised ethically, is antibiotic-free and organically raised. Most are processed at the same large USDA-approved factory slaughterhouses where they separate the animals by time and space and used different sanitizing agents.

Michigan has 27 slaughter facilities that are listed as USDA-inspected. This means that if a small local farmer is interested in selling their meat directly to the consumer, store or institution, their meat could accumulate a lot of miles from traveling to and from the slaughterhouse. There are a number of other meat processing facilities in Michigan that are “custom-exempt” but these are limited to the consumer bringing their own animal to them for butchering, such as show animals bought at a county fair auction.

This meat is labeled “not for sale” and is strictly for the owner’s own consumption.

Another rising trend spearheaded through the USDA’s “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” program is the mobile slaughter unit. The goal of this program is to help small farmers find USDA slaughter facilities near them. Several states report the successes of these small self-contained slaughter facilities that can travel from farm to farm and serve small farmers where larger plants are unaffordable. These mobile slaughter units can be operated as a cooperative and are used for poultry and red meat. Currently there are few operating nationwide with increasing interest and acceptance. This may lower the cost of meat purchased through reduced travel and processing time.

For more information about community food systems and local foods, contact Michigan State University Extension Community Food System educators who are working across Michigan to provide community food systems, educational programming and assistance. If you live outside of Michigan, contact your state’s Cooperative Extension to see what opportunities exist in your state. — Beth Clawson, Michigan State University Extension