Sorry, locavores

We know you’re looking for small-scale, locally produced meat, but it’s been marginalized thanks to regulation among other causes:

The state [Vermont] has seven operating slaughterhouses, down from around 25 in the mid-1980s, [state meat inspection official Randy] Quenneville said. One is a state-inspected facility, meaning that meat inspected there cannot be sold over state lines. …

Mr. Quenneville said a number of small, family-owned slaughterhouses started closing when strict federal rules regarding health control went into effect in 1999.

Not entirely unrelatedly, here’s an article on underground restaurants in Boston, a trend that has spread from Portland, Ore.


  • Which is why finding a good meat market is hard to do. Instead, we get the dreck they sell at Walmart ( an otherwise fine place to buy food) and other supermarkets. Instead of raising the quality of food in general, we get a dumbed down lower, but uniformed quality of meat. Edible, yes, but why not be able to buy better quality. Who not better to buy from, the locally owned meat market.

  • This may be a dumb question, but what are the “strict federal rules regarding health control” and in what way do they unfairly target small local slaughterhouses?

  • I never buy prepackaged meat. Instead I go to a local grocery store that has a butcher and decent produce, but not a lot of other selection. They are known locally for their meat counter. Unfortunately they are closed on Sundays. I go to a much larger grocery store for prepackaged foods. I hardly ever go to Walmart for food, and never for meat.

    The underground restaurant sounds great. That sounds like fun for a date or something.

  • I echo Keith’s question. Why would health control rules unfairly impact smaller operations?

    And less regulation sounds great ‘n freedom-luvin and all until the next tainted hamburger scare goes around. Are you seriously arguing for less health regulation for slaughterhouses and packing plants?

  • I can certainly imagine how regulations could be written in a manner unfair to smaller slaughterhouses. Here’s a completely 100% fabricated example of how it could be done:

    1) Require that certain bacterial tests be performed regularly.
    2) Require that the tests be performed under laboratory conditions.
    3) Require that the tests be performed on-site.

    #1 is probably equally fair to both large and small slaughterhouses.
    #2 is also probably equally fair.

    #3 means that slaughterhouses cannot outsource their testing to independent labs. It also means multiple slaughterhouses cannot pool their resources and create regional shared labs.

    If small slaughterhouses cannot afford to build and staff on-site testing labs, then #3 becomes and greater burden to them compared to the larger slaughterhouses.

    Eliminating #3 probably doesn’t reduce food safety, and (on the surface at least) appears to be fair to both large and small slaughterhouses.

    Again, that was a 100% BS, fabricated, pulled-out-of-thin-air example of how it could be done. I’m still interested in exactly how it is done.

  • Since I buy a much food as possible directly from farmers I know with no regulations at all, I’ll gladly argue for less federal regulation. The feds are too far from the subject to do a good job of it, and their main effect is to encourage processors to get bigger and bigger, so when tainted food inevitably slips through, it affects thousands of people in several states instead of a household or two.

    As for the reasons federal regulations make it harder for small butcher shops to stay in business: increased paperwork and tests are part of it, but there’s also a less direct effect in that big government simply meshes better with big industry than with small.

    For instance, one regulation is that you must have a federal inspector on site at all times while slaughtering is being done, and one inspector is required for every certain number of animals. Say one inspector is required for every 1000 cattle/week (because they figure that’s how many he can keep up with), but your little small town butcher shop only does 25/week. Either the inspector will be sitting on his hands a lot, or you’ll have to schedule all your slaughtering at certain times of the week so he can drive around and hit several small shops like yours. This makes it harder for you to spread out your work to use your labor and equipment efficiently. And for the inspector himself, he’d have it a lot nicer in a big processing plant where he’d have his own office and place to hang his white coats.

    So some of the pressure is obvious and some is just a matter of enacting a square-peg regulatory system on round-hole operations, that makes things uncomfortable and inefficient in subtle ways.

  • […] More on decline of local slaughterhouses under federal regulation [Zachary Adam Cohen, NYT "Room for Debate"; earlier] […]