a1 Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food, and Markets, Montpelier, VT 05620, USA.
a2 Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, Tufts University, Boston, MA 02111, USA.
Demand for locally and regionally produced meat has stimulated increased interest in livestock production among New England farmers. The region's livestock producers lament lack of access to slaughter and processing infrastructure. However, there is very little research on New England's slaughter industry to document this perceived problem. For this reason, we tested the hypothesis that a shortage of slaughter and processing infrastructure constrains the production of livestock for meat in New England. The region's large animal slaughter facility owners and managers were surveyed to determine current slaughter and processing capacity and identify challenges facilities face in meeting increased producer demand. The estimates of current capacity were then compared to USDA data on livestock slaughter and large animal marketings. The region's existing abattoirs could slaughter 63–84% of all animals marketed, but could process only 29–43%. New England's infrastructure for slaughter operated at only 38% of total physical capacity in 2009, while on-site processing infrastructure operated at 66% of total physical capacity (78% if only on-site inspected capacity is considered). Moreover, surveys with facility operators showed that the primary constraints faced by existing slaughterhouses are a shortage of skilled labor and the seasonality of the livestock industry, with periods of very high demand for slaughter in the fall and very low demand in the spring and early summer. Additional infrastructure, particularly for processing, would be needed were regional livestock production to increase. However, simply increasing physical capacity will not address the issues of labor availability and demand seasonality expressed by slaughter facility owners.
(Accepted June 15 2011)
(Online publication July 22 2011)