The U.S. Department of Agriculture says it plans to provide assistance to boost slaughter capacity for small livestock and poultry producers in underserved parts of the country.

Many U.S. counties, particularly in Rocky Mountain states, have dozens or hundreds of small cattle, hog or chicken farms but no government-licensed slaughter plants, according to materials provided by the USDA during a press briefing today.

The USDA plans to identify areas “with relatively high densities of small livestock and poultry producers, but without a nearby slaughter facility,” the agency said.

Providing assistance to new and existing facilities to increase slaughter availability in these areas will benefit “both local food systems and the public health,” the USDA said.

The plan was announced as part of an update of the USDA’s “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” program, which is aimed at supporting rural communities and smaller producers.

Historically a low-margin or money-losing business, the number of U.S. slaughterhouses has dwindled over the past three decades as plants were closed and large meatpackers consolidated.

U.S. maps provided by the USDA today showed most “small” or “very small” federally-inspected cattle, hog or chicken plants concentrated in the eastern half of the country.

“Large slaughter facilities often won’t accept animals from small producers,” Matthew Michael, of the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, said at today’s briefing, which included Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack and Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan.

USDA officials wouldn’t say how many new slaughter plants need to be built and declined to provide details on funding.

Based on the USDA’s definition, “small” slaughter plants have between 10 and 499 employees, while “very small” slaughter plants have fewer than 10 employees or less than $2.5 million in annual sales.

Source: Bruce Blythe, Vance Publishing