Small-scale meat producers say a proposal to limit slaughterhouse construction could harm farm-to-table eating statewide.
According to a front-page story in today's Dallas Morning News, State Representative Jodie Laubenberg has filed a bill that would allow counties to keep out slaughterhouses. Existing meat processing facilities wouldn't be affected by the legislation, which was apparently inspired by constituent complaints about three new immigrant-owned plants.
"It's a health issue and a quality-of-life issue," Collin County Commissioner Joe Jaynes told the paper. "People move to the country to experience country life, not to live near a slaughterhouse."
But what's country life without animal-killing? Square dance callers and kindly postmasters are of little use to working farmers with animals to get to market.
"Without small-scale slaughterhouses, small farms couldn't exist," explains Morgan Weber of Revival Meats in Yoakum. "I'd be out of business."
Revival Meats specializes in "humanely raised meat of the highest quality." It adheres to a sustainable, ethical code that impresses locavores but underwhelms slaughterhouses accustomed to dealing with industrial farms and their huge herds of pigs and cows. Since Texas state law forbids farmers from selling animals they've killed on site, Weber and other small-scale farmers are dependent on smaller slaughterhouses.
"It's an integral part of the process," Weber says.
The number of slaughterhouses nationwide has declined precipitously over the past few decades, with farm consolidation and the high cost of increased federal regulations forcing hundreds of small slaughterhouse operators out of business. Although Weber thinks the situation is graver in the Northeast, where farmers fight for appointments at slaughterhouses four or five hours from their farms, the trend's held in Texas.
"Slaughterhouses are closing all over the state," Weber says.
While there are several processors within 40 minutes of Weber's ranch, he routinely makes the three-hour trip to a facility near Austin because "they do a much better job." Weber acknowledges those lengthy trips partially undercut the environmental rationale for eating local meat, and drive up the cost of his products.
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has called for more abattoirs to meet the growing demand for locally-grown meat, telling National Public Radio: "What we need is for that smaller operator who may have 100 acres or 150 acres -- he would like to have the opportunity to take and raise a few cattle or a few hogs and be able to slaughter them and sell them locally. To do that, you have to have an infrastructure."
Weber believes cutting back on slaughterhouses would only exacerbate the problem.
"It would be a shame," he says.