New testing regulations may end small-scale meat production — and keep the market safe for the big boys
By Sara Breselor
That wailing you hear in the distance is the sound of small meat processors begging the USDA for mercy. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety Inspection Service recently proposed a set of new regulations that will require all meat processors to submit their products to a new series of tests, a procedure that can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars for even a modestly scaled operation, enough to cripple many small processors.
What worries fans of small farms and locally produced food is that the closing of small processors will mean the closing of small farms. Slaughter and processing is the biggest challenge for small-scale meat; they’re operations simply too costly and complex for farms to handle themselves. As it is, farmers have few options for meat processing without selling their animals to massive feedlot-meat operations, and without that piece of the puzzle, many farmers may quit. Why is the USDA considering the new testing regime? Some producers wonder if the machinations of Big Food are in play.
“The new testing would just ensure that the current processes, which are based on scientific consensus, are working,” according to Dustin VandeHoer of the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship. But, he adds that it’s not clear why they’re being mandated: “It doesn’t appear that it’s in response to any specific situation. They’re just kind of reinterpreting the existing rules.'” And he’s unsure that the new tests are necessary. “We haven’t had problems with food safety, especially with the smaller plants,” he says. “We should never become complacent, but I think we can reach a point where [small meat processors] can still be allowed to operate and food can be safe. I don’t know that we need to be taking this path that’s going to put small plants out of business.” (Repeated attempts by Salon to solicit comments from the USDA were unsuccessful.)
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