I couldn’t figure it out. Why are there plenty of small, local family farmers raising animals well, but so little humane-certified meat available in stores and restaurants? I finally put two and two together: It’s the slaughter, stupid. Here’s the four-part problem.
All farmers must use USDA-approved slaughterhouses.
Farmers cannot legally sell meat unless it’s been “harvested” at an approved plant (otherwise, they can only eat it themselves or give it away). Obviously, it’s crucial for a government agency to ensure that disease is kept out of the public food supply, but the USDA is a bloated bureaucracy whose rules favor factory farms and help them to thrive. And factory farms are responsible for E. coli and Salmonella outbreaks and mad cow disease (the USDA lets factory farms feed dead, diseased cows to living cows).
Small farmers are limited to smaller slaughterhouses.
Larger plants don’t take small jobs; it’s about economy of scale. At harvest time, small family farmers are forced to transport their animals to the nearest legal “processing plant” that will accept their animals. These plants often do not conform to the high standards farmers have for their animals’ welfare, but the farmers have no choice.
Humane certification requires humane slaughter, which only some slaughterhouses do.
From an animal welfare standpoint, how animals die is as important as how they live. So unless the farmer is lucky enough to have access to an outstanding small slaughterhouse with transparent policies, they can’t get the certification, even if they did the right thing every day of the animals’ lives. The USDA regulations focus on the health of consumers but have little to do with animal welfare (USDA inspectors often overlook violations of the Humane Slaughter Act).
Sadly, these small slaughterhouses are getting to be fewer and farther between.
More and more small plants are closing, having become financially crippled by the complexities and demands of federal regulation because the USDA’s regulatory framework favors the big players (e.g., those located on factory farms) and makes business quite difficult for a small operation.