Breaking the USDA's Slaughterhouse Stranglehold

The recent recall of nearly 9 million pounds of meat highlights the fact that USDA regulations make eating truly "local" meat difficult for consumers. How can we fix that?

CattlePublic DomainLocal food advocates and the USDA both encourage you to get to know your farmer. Many consumers choose to do just that.

But what if USDA regulations make futile the time and effort and money that a farmer and a consumer put into building this acquaintance?

That's exactly the case when it comes to USDA mis-management of the process for slaughtering the animals we eat, a fact that recent events have hammered home.

Early last month, the USDA shuttered the lone slaughterhouse in Northern California, Rancho Feeding Corp. in Petaluma, for unspecified violations, and ordered a staggering 8.7 million pounds of beef processed there in 2013 to be recalled. While the USDA has been tight-lipped on the reasons for the shutdown, word leaked late last month that the plant had been closed because it processed some cattle that were suffering from cancer.

If true, the USDA action makes sense on its face. Cancer is an adulterant and shouldn't be in the food supply.

Looked at more closely, though, the Rancho closure is a stark reminder that the USDA's own policies are largely to blame for this food safety problem. After all, the agency is responsible for channeling animals from farmers and ranchers of all sorts—from the smallest grassfed beef farmer to his largest competitor—into a limited number of USDA-approved slaughterhouses. According to USDA data, California has just four approved slaughterhouses. Texas has but one. Many states have none.

Why so few slaughterhouses? The "processing, marketing and distribution networks that once made small farming viable... disintegrated in the last 30 years as U.S. agriculture went through a dramatic consolidation," reported the Washington Post in 2010.

"The decline of small-scale USDA-inspected slaughterhouses comes as the demand for pasture-raised niche meats is soaring," noted USA Today in a 2010 article.

In other words, the increased demand for niche meats is being suppressed by a dearth of slaughterhouses.

A report last year in Washington State's Spokesman-Review detailed the problem. Farmers and ranchers are free to use slaughterhouses that are not inspected by the USDA. But meat from animals slaughtered there "must be sold to the consumer before it is butchered."

"Since a steer yields about 400 pounds of meat, that’s often too much for a single family," reported the Spokesman-Review. "Several families can go together to purchase an animal, but that’s more hassle for the rancher. And it doesn’t address the needs of individuals who just want to purchase a few steaks or some ground chuck."

The result, as NPR reported in 2012, is that "many local meat products are sent to slaughterhouses hundreds of miles away, across state lines."

The impact of limiting where animals can be slaughtered have real-world consequences—including the Rancho recall.

When the USDA announced the Rancho recall, for example, that recall ensnared not only allegedly cancerous cattle from an unknown culprit or culprits but also that of every other producer who's had an animal slaughtered in the Rancho Feeding plant in the last year—out of what the San Francisco Chronicle termed "an abundance of caution... to make sure none of the cancerous meat commingled with healthful beef."

That includes cattle sent to Rancho by famed grassfed farmer Bill Niman, who told the Chronicle that he's out almost $400,000 even though his 427 cows were cancer-free and he could prove to the USDA that those cattle were not commingled with the diseased meat.

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  • Floridian||

    I hope hayeksplosives is not a new tulpa puppet. I like her so far. Also nice cow.

    Good morning reasonoids! Time to bourbon up that coffee.

  • Ted S.||

    It's always happy hour somewhere.

  • Ted S.||

    Monopolies are wicked unless they're government-sector monopolies, at which point they suddenly, magically become virtuous.

    And I hope this comment thread turns out better than the last one.

  • Floridian||

    And I hope this comment thread turns out better than the last one.

    So how do I abort a deep dish pizza? Also if you tell me can I copyright/patent the process in perpetuity?

    /sorry Ted, I hate working Saturday so I'm looking for an outlet for my hostilty.

  • Ted S.||

    For a while, one of the other regulars here would post about "Troll-free Thursdays", playfully trying to get people not to respond to the trolls. So a few months back I decided to riff on that and humorously post on the first Saturday thread:

    Take the Saturday Pledge!

    Pledge not to respond to any trolls who try to turn the Saturday threads into their own personal playground for talking about abortion, gay marriage, circumcision, Christian persecution, or deep-dish pizza!

    My goodness people got pissed.

    Oh, and everybody knows you circumcise a deep-dish pizza, you don't abort it.

  • Pi Guy||

    Only the Hebrew deep-dish pizza, Ted.

  • sloopyinca||

    Let me just end this here: there is no such thing as deep-dish pizza.

  • SIV||

    It's a casserole.

  • sloopyinca||

    Thank you for speaking wisdom.

  • SForza||

    Circumcision is a covenant between deep-dish pizza and God.

  • LibertarianX||

    Does that mean you only eat the crust?

  • Dances-with-Trolls||

    /sorry Ted, I hate working Saturday so I'm looking for an outlet for my hostilty.

    Well you could always start a sub thread on what it means to be a True Libertarian.

  • Floridian||

    Obviously true libertarians agree with every position I hold, even when I change them.

  • gaoxiaen||

    You can't. Extra afterbirth and umbilical cord, please.

  • SQRLSY One||

    Deep-dish pizzas should only be aborted if they are GAY deep-dish pizzas, or ILLEGAL deep-dish pizzas from Mehixico or other, illegal-type, non-AmeriKKKan places! Also, I, The SQRLSY One, should be appointed to be THE Libertarianly Correct Humanoid of the Local Galactic Cluster, and y’all, ALL of the rest of ye worthless slimes, should be Libertarianly free to call yersleves Libertarians, so long as ye agree with ALL that I say; otherwise ye are SLAVERS!!!

  • Notorious G.K.C.||

    Do you have a right to see your birth certificate? Not if you were adopted in Minnesota:

    "Today, access to an adoptee’s original birth certificate is determined by a set of laws that consider the date of the adoption, whether a biological parent has filed an affidavit forbidding its release and — in those cases in which such an affidavit has not been filed — whether a judge believes “that disclosure of the information would be of greater benefit than nondisclosure.”...

    "The Legislature will consider this injustice in the current session. If enacted, House File 2440 will provide access to the original birth certificate of any adult adoptee whose certificate has not been placed under permanent seal by a biological parent."

    http://www.startribune.com/opi.....18651.html

  • Notorious G.K.C.||

    Former CIA operative John Kiriakou is in prison for revealing classified info, complains that former CIA director Leon Panetta is equally guilty but avoided charges

    http://www.latimes.com/opinion.....z2vNenXb1j

    He seems to think there's some sort of double standard in the Obama administration.

  • ||

    Progressive.

    Just think about what that means.

  • Rich||

    Hey, Suthenboy -- have you forgiven me for misspelling "Black Guerrilla Family" the other day? I *think* you thought I was being RACIST!, but it was an innocent mistake.

  • wareagle||

    Most. Transparent. Administration. Evah.

  • Notorious G.K.C.||

    It's been a while since I posted the Klingon version of Rick Astley's Never Gonna Give You Up, so here it is:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b0YC3RpvE3M

  • gaoxiaen||

    Thanks. That's now my official wake n' bake song.

  • Atanarjuat||

    Sure, we're all OK with giving half our paychecks to Uncle Sam. After all, we agreed to it when we signed the Social Contract. So there's 2.8 trillion/year (or whatever) that is mostly wasted. But I wonder if it's possible to quantify how much additional wealth is destroyed by government regulation, like forcing people to send their animals farther away than they otherwise would to be slaughtered as described in this article.

  • Rich||

  • LynchPin1477||

    All administrations lie and spin, but this one does it in a way that seems extra dickish to me. There just seems to be a smugness about it, and I really wish someone would call them on it.

  • Slammer||

    the Social Contract.

    Is that like tacit approval or somethin'?

  • Pi Guy||

    50.1% = referendum. So, yes.

    /election "winner"

  • Rich||

    I really wish someone would call them on it.

    "Why, so can I, or so can any man; But will they come when you do call for them?"

  • JW||

    and I really wish someone would call them on it.

    It's tough do that with their cock in your mouth. It comes out all muffled.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    Why so few slaughterhouses?

    Because the sort of people who aspire to government jobs fetishize vast tightly controlled centralized organizations. The notion of autonomous small farmers and processors fills them with dread and revulsion.

  • LibertarianX||

    It's the cost of the regulation compliance. It costs so much to keep inspectors on site, to do the cleaning, specialized equipment, etc. I know this sounds like it is for our benefit, but it doesn't really help. The expectation of perfection and absolutely contaminate free food at all times is not obtainable.

    The same problem exists for a single site restaurant. The rules and hoops you have to jump through to build one keep all but the well financed chains from putting up a new restaurant.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    trolls who try to turn the Saturday threads into their own personal playground for talking about abortion, gay marriage, circumcision, Christian persecution

    *looks askance at Ted S*

  • sloopyinca||

    Why, on a story about slaughterhouses, does Reason see fit to show a picture of a dairy cow grazing? That cow is as likely to end up on the business end of a slaughterhouse as Linnekin himself.

    Oh, and you start with: Local food advocates and the USDA both encourage you to get to know your farmer. Many consumers choose to do just that.
    But what if USDA regulations make futile the time and effort and money that a farmer and a consumer put into building this acquaintance?

    What do farmers have to do with ranchers, which are what cattlemen and dairymen are called.

    This is why there are no rancher libertarians.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    a picture of a dairy cow grazing?

    She's mourning the loss of her son to veal parmigiana, you insensitive boor!

  • Dances-with-Trolls||

    Veal is murder. Tasty, tasty murder.

  • Pi Guy||

    If we aren't supposed to eat animals then why are they made out of meat?

  • Slammer||

    If vegans love animals so much why are they eating all their fucking food?

  • LibertarianX||

    To the vegans out there: My food poops on your food.

  • wareagle||

    good lord, sloop; didn't you have enough of rhetorical gamesmanship last night with Bo the lawyer most likely to be shot by a future client?

  • sloopyinca||

    Ha, I guess not.

  • Slammer||

    It was funny when Apatheist starting arguing with Bo using Bo's voice.

    Bo uses phrases that kill me. Examples: "one would think", "does this not give credence to?", "is it not?", "yet, one would be hard pressed" yadda yadda yadda

  • robc||

    "supra" is the one that gets me. It screams "Im a 2L." Ive noticed this about law students in general, but Bo is particular. Our resident long term lawyers can separate legal writing style from human writing style.

  • JW||

    rob, that's not fair. You know that he can only reply within the parameters of his programming.

  • So very tired||

    "What do farmers have to do with ranchers, which are what cattlemen and dairymen are called."

    Nope.

    My Gradfather owned a dairy farm and he would tell you he was a farmer.

    I don't really think he gives a fuck what you think you know about it.

  • Acosmist||

    Just like all medical doctors wear lab coats at all times, all cows look like the above.

  • SForza||

    That cow is as likely to end up on the business end of a slaughterhouse as Linnekin himself.

    Every dairy cow ends up being slaughtered eventually, usually around 6 years old, when their productivity starts to drop.

    What do farmers have to do with ranchers

    Well, since ranch comes from "rancho," Spanish for "small farm," I'd say ranchers are a subset of farmers.

  • Farmer Jane||

    Rancher vs Farmer terminology is largely location based. Livestock & Dairy out east tend to call themselves farmers.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    A few miles from my grandfather's farm in central Ohio was a small slaughterhouse, where my grandfather would occasionally take one of his cows to be butchered for the family table. They knew each other by name, and waved if they passed on the road.

    That slaughterhouse disappeared many years ago. I blame teh kkkorporationists. Who else could have put that slaughterhouse out of business?

  • Sevo||

    "They knew each other by name, and waved if they passed on the road."

    I'm having a hard time imagining a cow waving.

  • sloopyinca||

    They also smiled as they acknowledged each other.

  • kibby||

    That will be haunting my nightmares.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    What do farmers have to do with ranchers, which are what cattlemen and dairymen are called.

    "Farmer" sounds friendlier than "commercial feedlot operator".

  • Notorious G.K.C.||

    BY the rude bridge that arched the flood,
    Their flag to April's breeze unfurled,
    Here once the embattled commercial feedlot operators stood,
    And fired the shot heard round the world.

  • Slammer||

  • lap83||

    They've enlisted the Amish to build drones now? Or is that just the latest beard trend.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    All administrations lie and spin, but this one does it in a way that seems extra dickish to me. There just seems to be a smugness about it, and I really wish someone would call them on it.

    That slimy liar Ezekial Emanuel was on Bloomberg yesterday. First he says, "Well, there only about 500k or so of those deluded fools who bought fake substandard insurance, so we don't need to consider the effect on them of the Obamacare. In the greater scheme of things, their experience is just not meaningful." Utilitarianism, FTW! Shortly afterward, he cited a single anecdote about some woman who got a second opinion FOR FREE as conclusive proof that the Obamacare is a a rampaging success.

    "Dickish" doesn't even begin to suffice. And, nobody called him on it.

  • Rich||

    Slaughterhouse Stranglehold

    Nice band name.

    Well, nicer than Righteous Porkchop.

  • SIV||

  • Rich||

    The *Food and Drug* Administration strikes again!

  • Slammer||

    Saw that on the NY Post.

    It's totally immoral to dose strangers without prior consent. But the media has this reefer madness crap that equates LSD with poison.

    Key bullshit scare words used in the article from the Post:

    Family sickened after eating LSD- tainted meat.

    Authorities say a Florida woman who was 9 months pregnant and her family became ill after eating meat tainted with LSD.

    the meat had been contaminated with the hallucinogenic drug

  • sloopyinca||

    I have no problems with their choice of words, actually. I'm more concerned with the person that would cut bottom round into steaks and cook it up for their family. Because I'm also assuming that they have to give chain saws to their kids so they are actually able to cut it.

  • Floridian||

    Some people are poor and ignorant, so there is that.

  • sloopyinca||

    Bottom round costs more per lb than a good pork loin does, so their economic situation is no excuse for this poor decision. I will allow he ignorant excuse to stand.

  • SIV||

    Bottom round used to be quite cheap up until the past few years.

    This is what you do with it

  • SIV||

  • sloopyinca||

    That looks pretty good. I may have to give it a try.*

    *Although I'll have to change step 6 since only heathens use corn starch and water to thicken a sauce...especially a cajun cook that would always have roux at the ready like I would have expected from the author.

  • sloopyinca||

    Seriously though, isn't this part and parcel of every industry that is highly regulated? Lack of slaughterhouses due to overregulation...herds shrink and the price of beef spikes (though the cost of feed and getting product to market have a lot to do with it--I'll address that in a minute). Lack of oil refineries due to overregulation and refusal of EPA to let them be built...oil costs more because we can't get it as readily to market. Lack of drug manufacturing due to overregulation...price of drugs higher than in other nations where less regulation exists. Lack of commercial fisheries due to overregulation and bogus international treaties...price of fish is through the roof.

    Government is there to feed itself, not to pave the way for businesses to operate efficiently and in a free market. And it seems that there are too few people that understand how self-regulation actually works for us to actually reel in the government bureaucracies that are essentially destroying economic development.

  • sloopyinca||

    Now, as to why the price of beef has spiked (aside from the lack of USDA-approved slaughterhouses making it cost more to transport cattle to slaughter).

    1. CARB regulations have made almost all the feed lots in California purchase new equipment to comply with emissions standards. It has also impacted the hay farmers, as they have had to do likewise. Furthermore, anybody transporting the cut hay to the lots had to buy a newer truck to comply (even though they probably only drove 10k miles a year in the old one). The truck driver taking them to slaughter also has to buy a newer truck, as does the guy driving the reefer truck from the slaughterhouse to the storage facility or point of sale. And they have to buy a new truck and reefer unit even if they're an out of state operator if they plan on running a load into or through California more than twice a year.* All of that new equipment, based solely on a state agency, increases the cost of getting goods from ranch to market by approximately 30%, which has been transferred to the consumer.

    And if you add in the spike in feed corn prices due to ethanol subsidies having it leave the feed supply chain, which is the feed of choice for many ranchers in the midwest, the problem is exacerbated.

    If it weren't for government regulators, the herds would be much larger and the price would be much lower.

    *Truckers that start their day and end their day in Mexico are exempted from these rules.

  • Dances-with-Trolls||

    But that takes individual effort, sloop, and a great many people would just rather someone else do it for them.

  • From the Tundra||

    I had an interesting discussion with my mother (a sweet, well-intentioned lefty) yesterday. Seems she had a phenomenal experience last week with Uber in CA. I called to her attention to the fact that local governments in all the jurisdictions that Uber or Lyft are in are doing their best to shut them down. Then I asked her if she could guess what a taxi medallion costs in Chicago and she was floored when I told her 300K. "But who can afford that just starting out?" Bingo.

    To her credit, she seemed to actually connect the dots. Perhaps as more people experience the awesomeness of "unregulated" commerce, they will start to ask themselves why they should pay more for shitty service and sub-par product.

  • Sevo||

    "Then I asked her if she could guess what a taxi medallion costs in Chicago and she was floored when I told her 300K. "But who can afford that just starting out?" Bingo."

    Well, SF is about to regulate the new ones toward such start-up costs.
    Did you know Uber and Lyft don't have disabled-equipped vehicles?
    We can't have any supplier of any product of service that can't provide for any person, can we?

  • sloopyinca||

    And yet, about half of the sidewalks in their city and most of the trolley cars aren't ADA compliant.

    The city of San Fran needs to remove the beam from their own eye, and then they will see clearly enough to remove the speck from Lyft's eye.

  • LarryA||

    The city of San Fran's beam is up in the other end from their eye.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    didn't you have enough of rhetorical gamesmanship last night with Bo the lawyer most likely to be shot by a future client?

    I had to look. I didn't make it very far. Poor Bo Peep, he must really be desperate for an argument to come swooping in to defend the intestinal obstruction from all you eight percentum bullies. Although he did get pretty sniffy ay back when, when I suggested to Shreeek that any handgun he bought would be an excellent choice so long as he turned it upon himself.

    He (little Bo Peep) reminds me of a "precocious" child, wandering around at one of Mommy and Daddy's cocktail parties, wowing the grownups with his extensive repertoire of tricks.

  • sloopyinca||

    He reminds me of a bowel obstruction.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    Lack of commercial fisheries due to overregulation and bogus international treaties...price of fish is through the roof.

    But without the intervention of Top Planners, there would be no fish at all. Not for any price.

  • sloopyinca||

    Fish will become the passenger pigeons of the sea!

  • robc||

    Regulation fun in my industry:

    FDA is looking into a rule about spent grain from breweries. Right now, 4 things are done with it.

    1. Thrown away.
    2. Given away to local farmers who will haul it off.
    3. Dried and sold as feed to said farmers.
    4. Dried and used as fuel.

    #2 is common for small breweries, as the cost of doing 3 or 4 are prohibitive (only 1-2 breweries are doing #4) and it saves on expense for #1. And its good for local farmers as cattle and etc LOVE spent grains. Win-win.

    However, FDA wants to regulate it as unpackaged feed material. Which means everyone doing #2 or #3 will switch to #1 as it wont be cost effective to follow the regs.

    Fortunately it hasnt gone into effect and the Brewers Association is fighting it.

  • sloopyinca||

    I think the FDA is in for a tough fight there. I have a pretty extensive background with farmers as well as ranchers and feed lot operators, so take this for what it's worth:

    They will have a hard time because the spent grains have already been used for their primary and intended purpose. They are not, therefore, unpackaged feed but are waste product. Now that waste product can be disposed of as the owner sees fit as long as it's not hazardous material (according to OSHA/DoT/FDA/EPA), an there's no way it'll get tagged with that designation.

    Having said that, the breweries that plan on doing #3 or 4 are actually repurposing the material, or refining it if you will, for resale. That means it no longer has the designation as a waste product and can probably be regulated as unpackaged feed or raw material for fuel, though the FDA would likely have to pass off regulatory power to the EPA and OSHA.

  • Slammer||

    Kim Jong Un frolics with ‘fly girls’

    FTA: But in the Stalinist autocracy’s version of Election Day, only a single candidate’s name appears on ballots for each position.
    Kim is running for election to the Supreme Assembly in the constituency of Mount Paektu near the Chinese border.
    The elections, staged every five years, are primarily viewed as an occasion for citizens to express their patriotic devotion to the pudgy leader and his family.
    Voters will be given paper ballots with just one name on them — that of whoever was endorsed by Kim’s Korean Workers Party.
    North Koreans can vote “no” but would have to walk over — in public view — to another booth at the polls and cross out the endorsed candidate’s name.

  • sloopyinca||

    It's basically the same here except the ballots have two names on them that the Supreme Two Party Council Of Overlords have deemed worthy.

  • Sevo||

    "North Koreans can vote “no” but would have to walk over — in public view — to another booth at the polls and cross out the endorsed candidate’s name."

    There's probably a door nearby there where they can just keep right on walking into the detention center. If they're not shot first.

  • RishJoMo||

    That sounds like a very good plan to me dude.

    www.Anon-Works.com

  • Robert||

    What evidence is there that meat from an animal with cancer is in any way inferior? I could understand that if you sliced thru a sarcoma, that particular cut would be funny (but maybe better—I don't know how it is, eating-wise), or if you hit metastases from some other organ type, but not most of the animal.

  • LarryA||

    USDA: "What is this 'evidence' thingy you are so obsessing about?"

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