Local meat - how is it butchered?
This might seem a bit odd, but it is something that's been on my mind. I've been making a significant effort to eat as much locally produced food as is possible. My question is when it comes to meat, if something is locally produced, where is the 'processing' taking place? Is all processing taking place in large plants? I recently watched the movie, Fast Food Nation, and was really affected by some of the images. While it's not a problem for me to stay away from meat at low quality fast food places, I'm trying to figure out if buying organic meat at my local farmers co-op is any better or if that meat is processed along everything else.
Any clarification would be greatly appreciated.
It depends on where you live, each state has different rules and some places may be "grandfathered in" so that they can process right at their farm instead of taking elsewhere. The only way to really find out is to ask the person you're buying the meat from. If they don't know, don't buy from them. Everyone at my farmer's market can tell you exactly where their meat is processed or what they do with it, how it comes to them, etc.
Some smaller producers use certified butchers that actually have butchering trucks. I've seen it on TV that in order to make it cost effective to butcher one or two heads at a time, the butcher is brought onsite. They sanitize the entire inside of the truck, using either commerical sanitizers/bleach, or natural ones if they are for an organic ranch. Then they butcher the animal to the desired specifications and then wash and sanitize the truck/equipment again. I can't recall where I've seen it.
The USDA requires that all meat offered for sale be slaughtered in a certified slaughterhouse. Some chicken farmers avoid this issue by selling you a live chicken, then killing it as a free service. Needless to say, this doesn't work for a steer or a hog (unless you've got a really big freezer to fill).
As ESNY notes, there are a (very) few "mobile" slaughterhouses that will process an animal on location. Most, however, are transported to a fixed location for slaughter. A responsible producer will ensure that the process is conducted humanely. Like RR1 says, talk to the person who's selling the meat. It's the best way to fight back against the commoditization of our food.
also: usda organic meat must be processed by a usda certified organic processor. this comes along with special inspections, paper trail, rules & training. there are a few big facilities that do organic meat but chances are good, depending on where you live, that the place will be smaller. some small plants do both organic and conventional meats, and must do a complete deep-clean between processing conventional and organic. in practice it generally means that they do the organic meats first in the a.m. and follow with the conventional product, with the deep clean at the end of the day. so no, your organic meat is not processed along with everything else.
as others have said, farmers market meat sellers generally can tell you exactly where (and when) their meat was processed locally.
Many poultry and rabbit farmers slaughter and butcher in house, because USDA guidelines are strictest for big mammals. Some ranchers avoid the USDA by selling customers a "share" in a cow, unfortunately this requires buying a quarter or half steer upfront and freezing your meat.
Local, small-scale ranchers often struggle to find a slaughtering and butchering facility that shares their values. There are a few organic/ethical slaughterhouses, but they are rare. This is one of the biggest obstacles facing the sustainable foods movement today. Availability varies drastically from area to area. If I were you, I would talk to the ranchers you are buying from to learn more about the specifics in your region.