WASHINGTON, June 27, 2012 -Findings from a USDA Economic Research Service ERS report suggest that access to federal or state-inspected slaughter and processing facilities is limited in some parts of the country, hindering local producers’ ability to meet the growing demands for locally sourced meat.
According to the USDA’s 2007 Census of Agriculture, sales of foods sold via direct-to-consumer marketing more than doubled over the previous decade. However, direct-to-consumer and inter- mediated sales of livestock products have not grown as rapidly as other food categories, despite apparent demand.
The ERS report indicated that regions of the United States that seem particularly deficient in local slaughter capacity for beef are Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, around the Appalachian Mountains, and scattered counties throughout the West; for pork, the west coast, Colorado, the northern Midwest States, parts of Oklahoma and Texas, and many of the New England States in the case of pork; and for poultry, the upper northeast quadrant of the United States as well as the Upper Midwest and the Pacific Northwest.
“The vast majority of livestock and poultry slaughter in the United States is done in a relatively small number of very large facilities,” said the report, citing their ability to source product from all across the United States.
“The more thorny problem is making a manufacturing facility that operates year-round match with what is often very seasonal agricultural production,” said contributing author and co-coordinator of the Niche Meat Processor Assistance Network, Lauren Gwin. Suggesting that the locally sourced meat industry is going through growing pains, Gwin said there is potential for some “great vibrant new businesses” to emerge.
The report also emphasizes new methods for animal slaughter and processing geared toward local markets, such as mobile slaughtering units (MSUs). However, the authors said the extent to which MSUs can facilitate growth in local markets might be “marginal in the short term.”
“Growth in small-scale slaughter, cut-and- wrap, and processing facilities depends on whether producers in need of these services can provide enough throughput, for enough of the year, and pay a high enough fee for the services to make such facilities economically viable,” the report says. “The expansion of the local meat sector will continue to depend on the willingness of consumers to pay premiums high enough to absorb the costs associated with the particular production program, processing, and the remainder of the supply chain,” the report concludes. “This in turn depends on the public perceptions about the local value of meat.”
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