Grist Article: Will Whole Foods’ New Mobile Slaughterhouses Squeeze Small Farmers?

Also see the Hartford Advocate’s article on Whole Foods’ Mobile Poultry Processing Unit: Whole Foods aims to bring locally raised and locally processed fowl one step closer to Connecticut tables at: http://www.hartfordadvocate.com/article.cfm?aid=15590

The following are excerpts from an interesting new Grist article on mobile meat processing facilities, their pros and cons… Entitled: Will Whole Foods’ New Mobile Slaughterhouses Squeeze Small Farmers?

By Tom Laskawy; Published 11/20/09

For the full article go to: http://www.grist.org/article/2009-11-20-Whole-Foods-chicken-farms/

“…It isn’t only small producers who are feeling the pinch—a widespread lack of processing infrastructure appropriate for small farmers has caused supply chain problems for the big retailers as well. Whole Foods—the world’s largest natural-foods supermarket—wants to aggressively expand its local meat sourcing, according to its head meat buyer, Theo Weening. But it faces the same limitation as Hashley. Most regions of the country have “lots of agriculture but nowhere to process,” Weening told me, adding that the phenomenon is most acute in the northeast.

Whole Foods wants to change all that. In a move that has national implications, the retail giant has confirmed to Grist that it is working with the USDA as well as state authorities to establish a fleet of top-of-the-line “mobile slaughterhouses” for chicken. Starting with a single unit serving Massachusetts, Connecticut, and the Hudson Valley, N.Y. area, Whole Foods hopes to offer small farmers an affordable way to process chickens as well as to vastly increase the amount of locally-sourced chicken it sells. If successful, this program could be expanded to any region of the country with similar infrastructure shortages…”

“…Given the high costs and uncertain prospects of building new small-scale slaughterhouses, there is a growing interest among farmers in these mobile slaughterhouses—interest that got Whole Foods’ attention in the first place. Currently, many farmers rely on on-farm slaughter by “ranch killers,” such as one in California profiled recently profiled by Mother Jones. But there are many legal restrictions on how and where such meat can be sold, so they often end up operating in a legal gray area. USDA-certified mobile slaughterhouses—complete with a permanently assigned USDA inspector—are a much better solution, and are beginning to pop up around the U.S. The first such approved unit operates on a small island off the coast of Washington state. Bruce Dunlop, the farmer/engineer who built it for a farmer co-op, now sells plans and kits. He also consults on the paperwork process for gaining USDA-inspected status.

If Whole Foods’ mobile-slaughterhouse strategy succeeds, this farmer-friendly method of processing birds will come into its own. To some, it’s a welcome effort to increase options for farmers. To others, it’s an ominous sign that the government is siding with a powerful retailer in a way that will, intentionally or not, squeeze farmers even more….”

Full article at: http://www.grist.org/article/2009-11-20-Whole-Foods-chicken-farms

See more information on Mobile Poultry Processing Units around the country in the post below. For those interested in Raising Chickens please see our Information and Resources Page at: http://beginningfarmers.org/information-about-raising-chickens/

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