Meat and poultry products are important commodities within many local and regional food systems. The production of these products for local and regional markets is of course dependent on the availability of facilities that slaughter and process livestock and poultry. Media stories have recently documented the difficulties many small farmers and ranchers often face when searching for facilities to slaughter their animals for local markets; lack of a nearby slaughter facility or lengthy wait times for services are frequently cited problems. As a representative to the USDA Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative from the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), I have been working, along with representatives from other USDA agencies, on identifying where slaughter service availability might be lacking and then determining the best ways to help.
FSIS is the public health agency in USDA responsible for ensuring that meat, poultry, and processed egg products are safe, wholesome, and accurately labeled. Our mission is regulatory and we don’t provide grants, loan guarantees or similar assistance as do many other USDA agencies. However, FSIS is committed to helping the nation’s small and local meat and poultry processors succeed in giving consumers access to a wider variety of safe and wholesome meat, poultry and egg products. We provide assistance in regard to regulatory matters to small and very small plants through outreach and through our Small Plant Help Desk. And, relevant to this USDA-wide project, we have much of the data needed to identify where slaughter facilities are and to determine their capacity.
Using data from FSIS and from the most recent USDA Agricultural Census, we have developed maps showing the densities of small livestock and poultry producers per county and the locations of establishments available to slaughter their animals. USDA will use these maps to identify areas where assistance or outreach would help build or maintain slaughter capacity within local or regional food systems. Interpreting the maps and determining the best means for assistance will require the expertise of multiple USDA agencies and their stakeholders.
A little over three months ago, we made available the first versions of maps. We received a number of great comments on how to improve them. Today, we’re releasing the second versions. These new maps show updated slaughter facility data, including locations of additional State-inspected establishments. We’ve also simplified the maps to make them more illustrative. We will continue updating the maps into the future, with both improved slaughter facility and production data, and possibly other features to aid in interpretation.
USDA has many programs to support meat and poultry production and related industries within local and regional food systems, including compliance guidance and outreach, loan guarantees, grants and research programs. Mapping animal production and slaughter availability is a first step in identifying the best application of these programs.