The Bulletin Board

Bill seeks to address shortage of meat-processing facilities

By: - April 14, 2021 4:00 am
A butcher stands with sides of beef

Butchers at Old Fashion Country Butcher process meat as they work to meet increased demand due to COVID-19 related shortages on May 21 in Santa Paula, California. New Hampshire farmers face wait times of up to a year for processing. (Photo by Brent Stirton/Getty Images)

The New Hampshire Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources unanimously passed a bill that would create a study on the shortage of animal slaughter and meat-processing facilities in the state. The study would also look at implementing a meat-inspection program.

There are only four USDA facilities in New Hampshire, and no poultry facilities, according to Rep. Peter Bixby, a Strafford Democrat who serves on the House Environment and Agriculture Committee.

That has left farmers with wait times of over a year when scheduling the slaughter of an animal. Commercial operations that supply meat to grocery stores have to use facilities in neighboring states.

Even small-scale farmers, such as Jozi Best of Unity, say that this is a big problem. Best has a three-acre farm where she raises sheep. She works with a local butcher who isn’t inspected by the USDA. That works fine when his shop is open, but the butcher keeps only part-time hours. He has been unable to find a suitable employee with the requisite training – another problem that lawmakers hope the study would tackle.

“We desperately need help here,” Best said.

During the pandemic, more people have started raising their own food – but this gap in slaughter capacity is limiting local food security efforts.

The study would look at how to incentivize people to fill these holes in the workforce. Training programs might be another piece of the puzzle to address the shortage of qualified workers.

“A facility in Goffstown for some time now has told us they would hire up to six new workers if they could find them today,” said Robert Johnson, policy director of the N.H. Farm Bureau Federation. Johnson testified before the panel in support of the bill.

If the bill passes, findings from the study would be presented by Nov. 1.

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Amanda Gokee
Amanda Gokee

Amanda Gokee reported on energy and environment for New Hampshire Bulletin. She also previously reported on these issues at VTDigger. Amanda grew up in Vermont and is a graduate of Harvard University. She received her master’s degree in liberal studies, with a concentration in creative writing, from Dartmouth College. Her work has also appeared in the LA Review of Books and the Valley News.