We get quite a few people coming in on a weekly basis asking if we sell local meat. And the answer to that question is NO. But is it by choice? Absolutely not. You would think that it would be as simple as finding cattle, hogs, or sheep for us to buy, slaughter, and cut up to put into our meat case. But it isn’t that simple. Why not? There are a few limiting factors as to why it’s not as black and white as it seems.

INSPECTION…

meat inspection, meat inspector

Image Source: Think Outside the Barn

The first limitation is inspection. There are a few different classifications of meat inspection, which vary from state to state. There is a federal level of inspection and several different state levels of inspection. We at Chico Locker are under a state level of inspection called “custom exempt”. What this essentially means is that ANY meat we slaughter and cut/wrap at our meat shop has to (by law) be labeled NOT FOR SALE and the meat is exclusively for the owner(s) of the animal, or the owner’s family and non-paying guests.

All of this differs from a federal classification of inspection which requires many things. First one being an FSIS (USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service) personnel present at  all times while slaughter operations are taking place. Animals being inspected LIVE as well as carcass-by-carcass inspection, organ biopsy sent off for testing to ensure no antibiotic residue, ground beef samples being sent of for testing of E.coli, etc. Basically, FSIS ensures that the plant is maintaining the most stringent of food safety standards. Meat that is processed under USDA inspection can essentially be resold anywhere. It can be wholesale, sold to restaurants, or simply put into the retail market. Any meat you are buying from any retail store has been processed under that classification. And the meat that we sell in our store was slaughtered under this classification.

I want to note that, REGARDLESS of level of inspection, food safety is something that all plants take extremely seriously. We are constantly taking steps to ensure we can provide our customers, whether it be retail or custom processing, with a quality, safe product. I think one of real myths people have about the meat industry is inspection. Documentaries like Food, Inc. don’t explain these things to you.

LACK OF SLAUGHTER FACILITIES…

Hog Carcasses, Slaughter, Slaughter facilitySo… just because we can’t slaughter the local animal ourselves, can’t we just have someone else do the job and THEN sell it in our shop? Well yes we could. But another limiting factor in sourcing and selling local meat is the LACK of federally inspected slaughter facilities near us. There are very few plants in the Northern California area that run under federal inspection. And the ones that do usually don’t take on new clientele and are regularly booked up for months. Did you know that because of this fact some of our local fairs send the cattle to be slaughtered all the way down to Los Banos…? There is simply not a facility that has the ability to process that many cattle at one time in the Northern California area.

It’s an unfortunate reality that the art of butchering and meat is becoming a lost art. And well, owning and running a slaughterhouse isn’t the most glamorous of jobs. The interest in this area for young people to take on new careers in the meat industry is lacking. But if the movement towards sourcing and selling local meat continues, there is a real opportunity for a young, motivated person to really capitalize on it as well as provide the local Butte County community with their federally inspected local meat that then could be sold at farmer’s markets, etc.

SOLUTION…? FIND A FARMER/RANCHER!

Know your Farmer, Meat Me

Photo Courtesy Meat Me

So how do we get around this..? How do we provide people with local meat? Since Butte County and the surrounding counties are such a mecca for agriculture, it’s rare somebody doesn’t know a farmer/rancher. So they go to the rancher directly and buy the animal live to then have it processed with us. Since they bought the animal from the rancher directly, they are the owner of the animal and their name goes on the packages labeled NOT FOR SALE. You can buy a share of an animal from a farmer/rancher down to a quarter of the animal. The farmer/rancher cannot sell anything less than that, basically meaning that you can’t sell individual cuts. This does cause a problem for people not wanting a whole bunch of meat, but it’s the best we can do under the conditions. In the end, it actually is cheaper to purchase a whole, half, or quarter of an animal rather than purchase individuals cuts. A half of beef can feed an entire family for a year, at least, sometimes more depending on how often you eat beef. Plus you get to pick and choose what cuts you want, how thick your steaks are cut, and how much hamburger is packaged. A lot of retail stores don’t offer those kind of choices.

If you are really interested in finding an animal that was raised locally, we do carry them from time to time (usually around fair time in Chico), so keep your eyes open for that! If you don’t know a farmer/rancher directly, you should. Thanks to Internet and social media, farmers and ranchers are out there now, sharing their stories and answering questions directly. If you really can’t find one, we can help you locate a farmer or rancher in your area. Use our Contact form to send us an email! And here are some places to start:

So as you can see, as much as we would love to source and sell local meat directly to our customers, it isn’t as simple as it sounds. I hope this simple explanation helped explain the challenges of local meat. And please don’t hesitate to leave a comment below or contact us if you have any further questions!

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  1. Pingback: Finding Out Where Your Meat Comes From… | Chico Locker & Sausage Co. Inc.

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