Farm Fresh Meat
The Vermont landscape is abundant with farmers supplying their communities with locally raised, slaughtered and processed meats. For generations Vermonters have relied upon friends and neighbors for their meat supply. As the industrialized food system has grown larger, rules have been put in place to “protect” the public from potential dangers. These rules have weakened Vermont’s slaughter and processing infrastructure and made it so that many Vermont farmers cannot comply with the industrial-scale regulations without making huge capital investments and taking on substantial debt. Rural Vermont believes that having Vermont scale regulations will help expand the market for farm fresh meat that is produced and processed on the farm while simultaneously supporting community-based food systems and enabling farmers to continue Vermont’s cultural heritage.
2016 Legislative Update
On May 11th, H.860, was signed into law by the Governor, extending on-farm slaughter in Vermont for another three years with some changes. H.860:
- Increases in the number of animals allowed to be sold per year/per farm to:
- 5 cattle (up from 3)
- 15 swine (up from 10)
- 40 sheep or goats (up from 25)
- Any combination of these animals up to 6,000 pounds live weight (up from 3,500)
- Changes the reporting requirement for farmers from monthly to quarterly
- Requires the Agency of Agriculture to engage in more education and outreach to farmers about the law, in consultation with stakeholder groups like Rural Vermont.
- Requires that farmers who intend to use the on-farm slaughter law register with the Agency on an annual basis (with no associated fee)
- Clarifies the existing authority that the Agency has to fine or suspend operations of a farm that fails to comply with the law.
The increase in animal numbers is significant, and reflects testimony from a number of farmers that want the ability to sell more animals under this law. It also reflects the fact that there have been no reported food safety issues with on-farm slaughtered meat thus far (since 2013, over 150 animals totaling more than 17,000 pounds have been sold and slaughtered on farm using this law).
In their deliberations over the bill, Senators on the Senate Agriculture Committee have considered two main criteria for the law: protecting food safety (which the current law has clearly done), and bringing the many farms currently conducting informal on-farm slaughter and meat sales out of the “black market” and into compliance with the law. Though there are many reasons that a farmer would choose not to report a sale, including the sunset itself, the Senators appear to be opting for a “carrot and stick” approach to compel more farmers to report to the Agency. On the one hand, they are attempting to make the law more “user friendly”: allowing for more animals to be sold, changing the monthly reporting requirement to a quarterly requirement, directing the Agency to conduct education and outreach, and requiring the Agency to provide farmers with a standard reporting form. On the other hand, they are proposing a new registration requirement, which they believe will underscore to farmers the expectations for using the law, and they are choosing to reiterate in law the punitive measures at the Agency’s disposal, should they discover that a farm is selling animals for on-farm slaughter and not reporting it.
From the outset of this legislative session, Rural Vermont’s primary goal with on-farm slaughter has been to extend or repeal the sunset provision before the law expires on July 1, 2016. During Small Farm Action Day, farmers also suggested a number of improvements to the law, including: increasing the number of live animals allowed annually to be sold and slaughtered on the farm where they were raised, changing the monthly reporting requirements to be less burdensome for farmers, allowing for multiple customers to purchase a single animal, and allowing the farmer to be the slaughterer (current law allows only for the customer, or an itinerant slaughterer contracted by the customer, to slaughter the animal on-farm).
During the legislative session, the House and Senate Agriculture committees requested testimony from Michael O’Grady, the Deputy Director of Legislative Council. Mr. O’Grady was involved in drafting the current on-farm slaughter law, including liaising with the USDA and FSIS to ensure federal compliance. He outlined for the Committee the legal intricacies between state and federal law. Including the following:
- Because Vermont receives federal funding (about 50% of its total meat inspection budget) for the state meat inspection program, it must maintain “at least equal to” status, which means its meat inspection laws cannot be less stringent than federal law.
- The Federal Meat Inspection Act (FMIA) creates two exemptions from meat inspection requirements: the “personal slaughter” exemption, and the exemption for “custom slaughtering.” Under both exemptions, the meat cannot be offered for sale and can only be for “personal, household, non-paying guest, and employee use.”
- “Personal slaughter” is when one person owns and slaughters an animal. Neither Federal nor state law regulates a person’s conduct under this exemption.
- “Custom slaughter” is when someone other than the owner of the animal slaughters the animal. For this exemption, federal law specifies certain sanitary expectations with regard to the facility, allows for multiple owners of the animal, and allows someone other than the owner’s animal to do the slaughtering.
- Vermont’s on-farm slaughter law operates under the federal “personal slaughter” exemption, but allows for this slaughter to occur on the farm where the animal was raised (and, notably, does allow for an itinerant slaughterer to perform the slaughter). Because of this, the farmer cannot perform the slaughter, and multiple people cannot own the animal being slaughtered, without violating federal law and jeopardizing Vermont’s “at least equal to” status. Either of these things would be considered “custom slaughter.”
If you have questions, please contact Andrew.
New Law Legitimizes Traditional On-Farm Slaughter
Rural Vermont has spent years organizing and advocating for the issue of on-farm slaughter. During the 2013 legislative session, a Rural Vermont member’s bad experience with the current restrictive laws provided an opportunity to create more commonsense regulations. After extensive testimony before both the Senate and House Agriculture Committees, language was added to the annual “Agricultural Housekeeping Bill” (H.515) that recognizes and legitimizes Vermont’s cultural tradition of on-farm slaughter as part of community-based food systems where neighbors feed neighbors.
What the new law does:
- Farmers can now legally sell, as live animals, up to 3 cattle, 10 pigs or 25 goats/sheep (up to a combined live weight of 3,500 pounds) and allow them to be slaughtered on the farm where they were raised.
- The on-farm slaughter may be performed either by the new owner or by an itinerant slaughterer hired and paid by the new owner.
- The farmer who sells the animal(s) may not assist in the actual slaughter but may provide certain accommodations such as equipment and appropriate disposal of the offal.
- The farmer must report to the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, by the 15th of the month, all animals slaughtered under the provisions of this law. The report template created by the Agency must be used by the farmer who sold the animals and is available here.
- Itinerant slaughterers are now permitted to work at slaughter facilities, thus enabling traditional slaughterers to secure year-round work in their field and slaughter facility employees to offer their skills to their communities.
If you have questions about any aspects of the new On-Farm Slaughter law, please contact Rural Vermont at (802) 223-7222, or you can contact any of the following people at the Agency of Agriculture at 802-828-2426:
Randy Quenneville – VT Meat Inspection Section Chief – Randy.Quenneville[at]state.vt.us
Mike Mitchell – VT Meat Inspector – Michael.Mitchell[at]state.vt.us
Dr. Katherine McNamara – Assistant State Veterinarian – Katherine.McNamara[at]state.vt.us
Important Definitions Related to H.515:
What is an Inspected Facility?
An inspected facility is a building where livestock are killed in the presence of an inspector. The facility must meet certain physical and operational standards and follow certain procedures. If livestock are processed in an inspected facility, the meat from them may be sold from the farm, at farmers’ markets, to restaurants and retail establishments, and it may be sold in pieces, such as ground meat, steaks, tenderloin, etc. Meat must be properly labeled to be sold in this way.
What is a Custom Facility?
According to the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, a custom facility is a building that can be located on a farm, and gets a license from and is inspected by the Agency of Agriculture to verify that certain sanitary standards are being met. These standards include requirements such as washable walls and floors, hot/cold potable running water, sufficient light, ventilation, plumbing, drainage, and sewage disposal. If livestock is processed in a custom facility, the individual packages of meat will be stamped “Not for Sale” and must be returned to the owner(s) of the livestock for their personal use, their employees, and/or their non-paying guests.
What is an Itinerant Slaughterer?
An itinerant slaughterer is defined in the new law as: “a person who, for compensation or gain, engages in itinerant livestock slaughter or itinerant poultry slaughter.” In common practice this is a skilled person who is hired by the owner of the animal to come to the farm or other location to perform the slaughter of that animal.
What are AAPs (Accepted Agricultural Practices)?
According to the Vermont Association of Conservation Districts (VACD) website – Accepted Agricultural Practices (AAPs) are standards designed to reduce non-point source pollutant discharges through implementation of improved farming techniques. The VACD provides a helpful brief brochure about AAPs that is available here.
What does “Sanitary Conditions” Mean?
Sanitary conditions are defined in the new law as a site on the farm that is:
- Clean and free of contaminants; and
- Located or designed in a way to prevent:
- The occurrence or water pollution; and
- The adulteration of the livestock or slaughtered meat
Rural Vermont will be working with interested members and supporters and maintaining communication with the Agency of Agriculture to ensure that the intent of the law- to allow community-scale, on-farm slaughter – is honored and maintained through the implementation of the law. We’ll also be reaching out to farmers, itinerant slaughterers, and their customers to evaluate how well the new law and its limits are working. Email info[at]ruralvermont.org for more information or to get involved in this campaign.
Recent Campaign Highlights:
- During the 2013 legislative session, language was added to the annual “Agricultural Housekeeping Bill” (H.515) that recognizes and legitimizes Vermont’s cultural tradition of on-farm slaughter as part of community-based food systems where neighbors feed neighbors.
- In 2008, Rural Vermont worked with a group of farmers to advocate for the Farm Fresh Meat Bill (Act 207) that would allow customers to contract with a farmer to raise and humanely slaughter a live animal for consumption. Although Act 207 was passed and enacted in 2008, the Vermont Agency of Agriculture has taken the position that USDA regulations do not allow farmers to raise animals on behalf of their customers and slaughter them on the farm without meeting the requirements for custom slaughter facilities.
- In 2007, Rural Vermont worked to enact the “Chicken Bill” in Vermont. It allows small-scale poultry producers to process up to 1000 birds on their farm (without state or federal inspection) and sell these whole birds at farmers markets or to local restaurants.
Join Rural Vermont’s Efforts to Build Stronger, More Resilient Community Based Food Systems!
Any and all of Rural Vermont’s progress is dependent on the depth and breadth of our membership. Show your support for the work that Rural Vermont has done to validate and legalize farm-slaughtered meat, and be part of our future work, by joining Rural Vermont or making a special contribution today. Thanks!