Meaty Ericksen bill makes it easier to ‘buy local,’ gives farmers new market

  • Bill allows “custom slaughterhouses” to sell meat by the cut
  • Presents new opportunities for farmers, consumers
  • State inspection program would be expanded

OLYMPIA – Consumers and farmers would have new opportunities to buy and sell locally-raised beef, pork, lamb and other meat products under a bill that will be prefiled for the 2020 legislative session by Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale.

The measure would permit “custom slaughterhouses” to sell meat by the cut, creating a new market for Washington famers who raise livestock for eventual human consumption. Ericksen’s measure would expand a state meat-inspection program.

“This bill would create a new market for Washington farmers, and give consumers a way to purchase locally,” Ericksen said. “The way the rules work right now, if you want to buy local, you have to buy in bulk. But how many of us have freezers big enough for half a cow?”

Federal rules require all meat sold in restaurants, farmers markets, and wholesale and retail outlets to be processed at facilities inspected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. But small farmers have trouble gaining access to that channel.

Increasingly these USDA-inspected slaughtering facilities are large operations that cater to large producers. Since passage of federal meat-inspection rules in 1967, the number of USDA-inspected slaughterhouses in the state has declined 90 percent, from 1,000 to 100. Many process animals by the herd and deal only in beef.

For small producers – those with just a few animals to process – the only option is to work with a “custom slaughterhouse,” or obtain their own slaughtering license. These smaller custom operations are overseen by state inspectors. Customers can purchase an entire animal prior to slaughter, or a share of it, and have it cut to order. But this requires them to buy in bulk, and the meat cannot be resold.

Ericksen’s bill would allow these custom slaughterers to sell state-inspected meat by the cut. Currently the state licenses 17 custom slaughterhouses, 72 farm slaughterers and 103 custom meat facilities that perform cutting and wrapping.

“As USDA-inspected meat-packing operations get bigger and bigger, the federal inspection requirements are becoming a bottleneck for small producers,” Ericksen said. “In my district, in Whatcom County, USDA inspections aren’t even available anymore. This bill will create new opportunities for farmers and consumers, and give local farm production the boost it deserves.”