When Sourcing Meat Know Your Farmer

Summer 2020

By Jacki Perkins

Since entering into adulthood and having the responsibility of buying my own food, I have become cognizant of where that food comes from and how it is made or grown. I have not always found myself in situations where I could buy local or organic, but the source of my meat is my highest priority. When peers outside of the MOFGA community ask my opinion on meat, my simple answer is, “If you’re not raising it yourself, at least know your farmer.”

Each species comes with its own unique set of issues, but they all essentially boil down to diseases, animal welfare and food safety concerns. For example global pork production has been affected recently by African Swine Flu (ASF). According to an article in Pig Progress, China’s pork industry was reduced 50% by the 2018-2019 outbreak of ASF. The U.S. Department of Agriculture website says that U.S. exports of pork to mainland China increased by roughly 167,000 pounds within the same time frame. Experts speculate that the Chinese pork industry will evolve to become more commercialized in order to meet this demand. These global factors keep U.S. exports to these areas high, affecting our nation’s supply and demand.

Large-scale poultry and egg production, even in the organic industry, can be disturbing to witness. The withdrawal of the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices rule by the Trump administration last year, which aimed to close many of these issues, was unfortunate because it had broad support among the organic community. Loose interpretation by certifiers of outdoor access and space requirements can leave birds confined in cages with only an outdoor patio. MOFGA Certification Services, a USDA-accredited certification agency, interprets the regulations differently, requiring that poultry carry out natural behaviors such as foraging, and have appropriate housing and healthcare.

In the broader poultry industry, shipping norms allow for certain losses because of open-air travel and fluctuations in weather during travel.

Slaughter facility regulations have improved since the 1906 publication of “The Jungle,” but capitalist pressures to increase production speed can allow for increased accidents. The Food Safety and Inspection Service, a division of USDA, runs a Salmonella Initiative Program (SIP) to test for dangerous pathogens in food production lines. The SIP will issue an inspection waiver to slaughter plants willing to do their own testing and submit their records to FSIS. This has the potential to increase processing speed in a poultry slaughter facility to 175 birds per minute, up from 140 birds per minute. This faster processing could lead to higher rates of employee injury and make it difficult to detect defects on the chicken. The traditional role of inspectors is to provide oversight on the line to catch issues with carcasses such as signs of disease or fecal contamination. Removing inspectors from the processing line has the potential to impact food safety.

Small-scale and backyard growers also have a responsibility to remain cognizant and educated on disease and parasite impacts, animal welfare and food safety concerns. Just because a farm is local doesn’t mean the producer has remained current on these issues. Consumers need to keep abreast of how local farms raise and process their animals, what their values are, and to find those that match their own values. MOFGA remains a great resource to help find local foods and to learn how to grow your own. Check out mofga.org or contact MOFGA for more information.

Jacki M. Perkins is MOFGA’s organic dairy and livestock specialist. You can contact her at [email protected] or 802-595-9866.

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