You may have noticed a "certified humane" logo on some coop meats—but only a few. Why are there plenty of small, local family farmers raising animals well, but so few humane-certified items available in the coop—or in any store or restaurant? 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 “processing 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 (with fast “line speeds,” which is poor for humane slaughter) and help them to thrive. And factory farms are responsible for E. coli, 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.
Big slaughterhouses don’t accept small jobs due to economies of scale. This means that small farmers must transport their animals to the closest legal processing plants that will accept their animals. Because USDA regulations focus on the health of consumers but have little to do with animal welfare, few of these plants will conform to the higher standards of “humane slaughter” that small farmers would like for their animals’ deaths. (USDA inspectors often overlook violations of the Humane Slaughter Act, which requires that animals be rendered insensate to pain —which is accomplished by various methods of stunning—before slaughter.)
Humane certification requires humane slaughter (that is, as fast and painless as possible), which only some slaughterhouses do.
From an animal welfare standpoint, and for the “certified humane” accreditation, how animals die is as important as how they live. This means that farmers cannot get the certification unless they are lucky enough to have access to an good small slaughterhouse with transparent policies even if they did the “right thing” every day of the animals’ lives.
Sadly, these small slaughterhouses are becoming fewer and farther between.
The USDA’s regulatory framework favors the big players (such as those located on factory farms) and makes business quite difficult for a small operation. This means that many small plants are closing, due to the financial demands and complexities of operating in a system that is stacked against them.
There’s plenty of supply (animals) and plenty of demand (consumers), but between the
two is a giant hurdle made from government-issued concrete.
This article appeared in the Sept 3rd, 2015 edition of the Linewaiter's Gazette.