Glitches in System

The self ascribed ‘Lunatic Farmer’, Joel Salatin, is a gifted speaker, writer, and farmer.  He and his family operate Polyface Farms in Virginia.  His blog is a fascinating and helpful insight into the difficulties farmers and ranchers of small holdings face.  During this time of renewed interest of purchasing locally from local abattoir, I’m going to reblog those of his which address why local butcher shops and farmers do what they do and charge what they charge.  I hope the series will be helpful.  However, we are realists and know that once the huge foreign owned packers are back up and running, consumers will be back at Wal-mart buying cheap imported meat processed, in some cases, by illegal aliens.

The comments are worth reading as well, but you’ll need to click through to his blog site.

MEAT SCARCITY AND OVERTIME

            By now all of us are well aware about the glitches in the meat and poultry processing food chain in the U.S.  It’s severe enough in pork and poultry that animals are being euthanized rather than going to processing.  Beef will probably not get to that point simply because beef grows slower and therefore has more forgiveness.  A month of holding pattern for a chicken is a long time; for a beef it’s not that long.

             As a result of these industry problems, the crush on smaller community-based abattoirs like the one Teresa and I co-own here in Harrisonburg (T&E Meats) is unprecedented.  With our facilities and crew we can only handle a certain number of animals per week and when the slots are filled, they’re filled.  We’ve had a sudden surge of perhaps 30-40 percent in slot requests.  Even Polyface can’t get in with all the animals we need processed; then we’re short and customers complain.  Sheesh.

             We’ve never run Saturday work or a second shift, but we’re examining all those alternatives now to squeeze some more use out of our concrete, stainless steel, and building.

             Hang with me here, because this will no doubt infuriate you like it does me.  Our small plant of about 20 employees is located on a roughly 1.5 acre lot surrounded by other small businesses.  It’s been on that lot for some 70 years.  We’re federal inspected which means an inspector pokes and sniffs at livers and looks over paperwork each day.

             The inspector has an office in the building to keep records but he’s only there less than an hour a day.  He goes to other plants during the day.  Of course, he has the right to pop in any time he wants to and see anything he wants to.  He also has the right to immediately shut us down if he sees egregious violations of his interpretation of the voluminous subjective codes.

             The way the system works is this:  if a plant owner passes all the compliance and licensing requirements, the federal government issues an establishment number which authorizes the facility to engage in business.  The stamp is called the “Blue Buzz” and it’s the little round blue circle on all federal inspected product that carries the FSIS (Food Safety Inspection Service) acronym and establishment number.  That license also requires the federal government to supply, at no charge, an inspector for up to 8 hours per day.

             If you need one for more than 8 hours per day, then the business and not the government picks up the tab at a time and half rate for every hour more than 8.  What you have to appreciate is that in the case of a small plant like ours, the inspector is actually only on site an hour a day and sometimes less.  He or she is not there on location for 8 hours; not anywhere close.

             But here’s the catch.  As we begin discussing running on Saturday or operating for an extra couple of hours to try to accommodate more of these local farmers who desperately need animals processed, the government requires us to pay a time and half inspector rate for every hour we OPERATE more than 8 hours, regardless of whether an inspector is there or not.

             The inspector shows up each day, checks things, and then leaves.  Why can’t that check be good for 10 hours instead of 8?  Or for 12 hours instead of 8?  He’s not there anyway, so if the system trusts us not  to cut corners in the 6th hour of an 8 hour shift,  why would it be suddenly risky for us to operate another 15 minutes past 8 hours?  It makes no sense whatsoever, but it definitely changes our economic picture dramatically the moment we have to pay $75 an hour for someone who isn’t even there.

             This is the kind of foolishness foisted upon local abattoirs by a scale-prejudicial system that refuses to accommodate or budge in order to alleviate the desperate need of people for food and farmers to get it to them.  This is accounting by the government.

             Is it time to build an underground railroad for processing?

Thank your Kate Simon for the photo!

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