As new law makes on-farm slaughter easier, legislature could do more to revive California’s meat supply chain

Small producers raising goats, sheep and pigs will likely benefit from a bill signed last week that will make it easier to sell livestock on the farm where it was raised. Gov. Gavin Newsom approved the measure shortly after a new report revealed how meat processors continued to face significant challenges due to the pandemic, drought, wildfires and a changing market.

Praising the passage of Assembly Bill 888, Jamie Johansson, chairman of the California Farm Bureau, which sponsored the legislation, said the exemption from inspections for mobile logging operations targets systemic weaknesses in the industry. within the food supply chain.

“The AB 888 will help address meat processing bottlenecks by providing more options to safely slaughter goats, sheep and pigs locally,” Johansson said. “By allowing the diversification of income sources for ranches, this bill ensures that small ranchers can stay on the land, thereby reducing fuel burdens while feeding families. “

Sheep herders have urged lawmakers to further support their efforts to graze on dry vegetation to prevent the spread of wildfires.

Marcia Barinaga, who runs a traditional Basque sheep ranch along the eastern shores of Tamales Bay in Marin County, helped the Farm Bureau develop the measure. He gained broad support from livestock trade groups as well as the Natural Resources Defense Council and walked through both chambers unopposed.

AB 888 rode a wave of support by serving as an extension of an enacted popular 2018 bill that granted the same exemption for beef cattle. And the USDA has already granted this exemption to all breeders at the federal level.

The bill allows breeders to sell an animal directly to the consumer. This provides additional animal health benefits by reducing stress during transport and reducing the potential risk of injury, according to Robert Spiegel, a policy advocate for the Farm Bureau. He added that this would respond to the new and growing preferences of California consumers, who are increasingly seeking local relationships with sustainable producers to learn more about farming and animal husbandry practices, and to support local businesses.

“The bill expands and encourages these new business opportunities for small-scale agriculture and leads to a dynamic change in food preferences for all Californians,” Spiegel told the Assembly’s Agriculture Committee earlier. This year. “So let’s continue to support producers and consumers alike to find a safe and sustainable solution for locally raised livestock.”

The bill’s author, Assembly Member Marc Levine of San Rafael, shared similar arguments, adding that AB 888 will create a much-needed opportunity for artisanal butchery operations and strengthen local food systems.

“Giving these small businesses more flexibility through on-farm harvesting is a more humane way of treating animals and is better for our environment,” said Levine.

The proponents acknowledged that the bill offered limited relief to producers and that, under specific circumstances, it could help avoid the type of food disruptions that took place in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The UC Davis Food Systems Lab released a study last month that revealed, among many other barriers, a lack of access to slaughter services for small and medium-sized meat producers. Already faced with a market concentration that favors large meat companies, small producers have found it difficult to stay in business.

“Remote or mobile slaughter operations are extremely important for small producers,” write the authors.

Yet California has only 56 such operations, which “is probably insufficient capacity to meet the needs of the high-value meat sector.” In addition to passing AB 888, the report recommends that the CDFA work with the legislature to create a California meat inspection program that would level the playing field for small and medium producers in this sector. .

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Jacob C.

The author Jacob C.

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