Saturday, March 27, 2010

Slaughterhouse bottleneck slows Slow Food movement

This story in today's New York Times reports from East Montpelier, Vermont, population 2,578, on the challenge that small meat producers are facing in getting their products to burgeoning locavore markets. The bottleneck, it seems, is slaughterhouses. Here's an excerpt from Katie Zezima's story:
Erica Zimmerman and her husband spent months pasture-raising pigs on their farm here, but when the time came to take them to slaughter, an overbooked facility canceled their appointment.

With the herd in prime condition, and the couple lacking food and space to keep them, they frantically called slaughterhouses throughout the state. After several days they found an opening, but their experience highlights a growing problem for small farmers here and across the nation: too few slaughterhouses to meet the growing demand for locally raised meat.

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.

The consequence: these producers are scaling back on plans to expand their farm. Apparently, the shortage of slaughterhouses is particularly acute in the northeast. The number of slaughterhouses in Vermont currently is 7, down from 25 in the mid-1980s. One of the complications in ramping up slaughterhouse work is the not-in-my-backyard phenomenon. So what might the USDA do about this? Well, it is "financing some mobile units and helping to build a regional facility near the Quad Cities in Illinois and Iowa."

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack notes that helping small farmers helps "struggling rural economies." He added, “we recognize that the buy-local food movement is a significant economic driver in rural communities.”

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