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Slaughterhouses on Wheels Come to the Aid of Small Farms

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This is the VOA Special English Agriculture Report.

One of the great American success stories after World War Two was the rise of industrial farming. But now small is big. People who say they worry about their food and their environment are looking for locally grown produce from small farms.

Local meat producers want a piece of the action. But small farmers often have a difficult time getting their animals to market. Many cannot pay the cost of a large slaughterhouse.

Also, the number of slaughterhouses in the United States has decreased sharply since the nineteen eighties. Some small farmers have to travel long distances to have their animals killed and processed.

But now if a farmer cannot get to the slaughterhouse, the slaughterhouse may come to the farmer.

The United States Department of Agriculture, the USDA, is helping farmers to pay for and operate mobile slaughter units. These are trucks and trailers equipped to do the job, including inspection. A federal inspector travels with the unit.

Last September the USDA announced a sixty-five million dollar program called "Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food." The aim is to support local farmers, rural communities and healthy eating. As part of that effort, officials are trying to spread the word about mobile slaughter units.

Ten years ago, in Washington State, fifteen farmers raising sheep and other livestock formed a cooperative. Their group, the Island Grown Farmers Cooperative, wanted to build a traditional slaughterhouse.

But neighbors objected. So the farmers designed a slaughterhouse on wheels. The Department of Agriculture approved the first mobile slaughter unit in two thousand two.

There are now forty-four farmers in that cooperative. And mobile units are being used around the country not just for sheep and cattle.

A group in Alaska uses a mobile slaughterhouse for reindeer. And an organization in South Dakota has a mobile unit for buffalo.

The United States has a limited number of federal meat inspectors. Some farm co-ops operate with state inspectors. But red meat and meat that will be sold in other states must have federal inspection.

Right now, officials say nine groups are operating federally approved mobile units. They say these slaughterhouses on wheels are not only a way to build local food systems, but also to help local economies.

And that's the VOA Special English Agriculture Report, written by Jerilyn Watson. For more reports, go to I’m Bob Doughty.