This past Thursday, I attended the Food System Economic Partnership annual conference in Jackson, MI, where there was a lot of discussion about strengthening the local food system. While it was interesting to see and hear what various individuals and organizations are doing to grow the Southeast Michigan food system, it was disappointing to hear very little discussion about how to make fresh, local food available not only to the wealthier consumers now flocking to the “good food” movement but also to underserved communities in our region. As one of my colleagues pointed out, “the room got real quiet” when someone hazarded a question in this realm.
On another topic, one of the panelists I heard speak was John McLaughlin of McLaughlin Farm, LTD. I purchase my beef from this farm and cannot recommend their product highly enough! John was kind enough to give me some comments on the small-scale slaughterhouse issue I mentioned in my June 13 post, “A chance to act.” So here it is, straight from the farmer’s mouth, with my thanks to John for taking the time to comment so thoughtfully and passionately:
Processing is the single biggest problem for a Michigan meat producer, at least in the south central part of the state. In order to sell retail (by the cut), to restaurants, or at farm markets, we must use USDA processing. Michigan has acquiesced to federal law and does not have it’s own inspection system (as Indiana, Wisconsin and others do). That results in limited processing for retail oriented producers. Many of the remaining local facilities can’t or won’t comply with the ever growing list of federal requirements. Some of the local processors do an outstanding job, but unfortunately they are unavailable to us for most of our needs. Ever increasing regulatory requirements such as these play into the hands of large scale producers that can afford to hire staff to handle regulatory compliance. this situation kills small processors, producers because they cannot afford the overhead to comply with the ever growing regulatory requirements. The consumer suffers when the small producer and processor is forced out of business. One small meat processor said that it would take 1.5 employees just to comply with HACCP paperwork and that would not add one customer, because they are already at capacity!
Unfortunately the “Farm to Fork” “Eat Local” movement is on a collision course with this type of regulation. Consumers need to act! Add to these requirements new accounting and tax reporting requirements and other regulatory compliance and many small businesses will be overwhelmed with compliance and reporting issues, with the likely outcome being that they close shop! There needs to be a balance in this realm; unfortunately, it seems that most legislators have no idea how to run a business or what it takes to comply with the never ending list of requirements they like to creat. Somehow the people need to seek common sense solutions and stop the regulatory nightmare that we are faced with in agriculture and in other aspects of our daily lives. Ironically, it seems that most food borne illnesses reported recently have been created by large processors of both meat and vegetables, not by farm market vendors, small processing plants, etc.
The due date for public comment mentioned in the June 13 post is past, but if you love your grass fed meat and want to support your local small businesses all along the supply chain, I urge you to keep track of this issue and get involved as you can.