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An Introduction to Mobile Slaughter Units

Posted by Denise Amann, Staff Officer, Food Safety and Inspection Service in Health and Safety Food and Nutrition Farming
Aug 30, 2010

In the United States the slaughter and processing of meat sold in the marketplace must take place at a state or federally-inspected facility.  The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, or FSIS, is responsible for this important task.  While these requirements are important for protecting the public’s health, they can create challenges for farmers, ranchers, and processors looking to do business.

For example, small livestock producers are finding it hard (and at times, cost prohibitive) to transport their livestock the long distances necessary to the closest FSIS-inspected slaughter facility.  This is especially troubling to producers at a time when markets for locally grown and specialty products are becoming more and more profitable.  FSIS-inspected “mobile slaughter units” provide a feasible option for small red meat and poultry producers wanting to provide safe, wholesome product to local and interstate markets.

Mobile slaughter units have the potential to travel from farm to farm but often provide services to regional producers at conveniently located “collection sites.” Capacities vary depending on size of unit and species being slaughtered.  Bruce Dunlop of the Island Grown Farmers’ Cooperative states that in a 25 foot unit, “one butcher can normally process 20-25 goats or sheep per day and two butchers can process around 10 cows per day.”

The first FSIS-inspected mobile slaughter unit was developed by the Lopez Community Land Trust in 2002 with the Island Grown Farmers Cooperative for the community of Lopez Island, located off the coast of Washington State.  Prior to the unit’s arrival, farmers had to go off-island to slaughter their animals and then transport the meat back to the island.  Already small profit margins were being consumed by increasing transportation costs.  Dunlop’s mobile slaughter unit was the most cost effective solution for Lopez Island.  Now, local ranchers are able to efficiently access their local markets.

Currently, there are nine FSIS-inspected mobile slaughter units in the United States.  An FSIS-inspected mobile slaughter unit must comply with the same regulations as a fixed slaughter facility, and the FSIS inspector assigned to the unit verifies the slaughter process in the same way that he or she would in a permanent facility.

Coming up on September 9, FSIS Office of Outreach, Employee Education and Training will host an informational session on mobile slaughter units in Carson City, Nevada.  For additional Agency resources available to assist small operators please contact the FSIS Small Plant Help Desk at 1-877-FSISHelp (374-7435) or  Additional resources are available from the Cooperative Extension System and the Niche Meat Processor Assistance Network.