On-farm slaughter regulations discriminatory?
Heifer International regional program manager’s response to on-farm slaughter story really gets writer/farmer’s goat.

Posted December 14, 2006


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Regarding the article: Keeping it close to home: Allowing on-farm slaughter for buyers By Sandra K. Miller, I am confused about the laws regarding on-farm slaughter. We just released a guide called "Frequently Asked Questions about Processing and Marketing Beef, Pork, Lamb and Goat Meats In North Carolina and South Carolina." The guide was reviewed by The Meat and Poultry Inspector's Office for both North Carolina and South Carolina.

Even if slaughter can occur on the farm of the seller by the customers who paid for the animals in Pennsylvania, the North Carolina and South Carolina agencies do not permit this. Readers should be aware that they should look into the laws of their own state. A page in that guide reads as follows: “On-farm Animal Slaughter and Processing /Can I slaughter my animals myself?” Yes, you can slaughter animals that you have raised on your farm, as long as the meat is for your family’s own personal use or the use of non-paying guests. You may not sell meat from animals you have slaughtered on your farm. You must use a state- or federally-inspected slaughter facility to sell meats.

You may sell meats from rabbits or poultry that you have slaughtered, processed, packaged and labeled yourself. There are specific rules and guidelines that need to be followed in order to process and sell your own poultry. (This is covered in page 29 of our guide under “Poultry Resources”.)

Can I sell a live animal to a customer and slaughter “their animal” myself as a service on my farm? No! Some farmers have attempted to go around laws about selling meats from animals they have slaughtered themselves by “selling a customer a live animal” and then slaughtering that animal “as a service.” If you slaughter animals for other individuals on your property, without first building an inspected slaughter facility, you are in violation of state and federal meat inspection laws. Not only is this against the law, it can put your farm and livelihood at risk. Compliance officers in both NC and SC have been cracking down on these unlawful practices, and individuals found in violation could be assessed a civil money penalty or prosecuted. You are also putting yourself and your customer at risk.

If a customer gets sick, you could be held responsible. It is not worth this risk. Only slaughter animals for your own personal use. Always use a state- or federally-inspected facility to slaughter and process meats you sell to the general public. If they want to have the animal slaughtered and/or processed for their personal use, they must take it to a custom slaughtering facility or a state- or federally-inspected slaughter facility that conducts custom slaughter. The animal will be slaughtered, processed to their specifications, and marked and labeled as “Not for sale.” Have the animal leave your property alive.

Kind regards,
Tom Dierolf
Appalachia-Southeastern Region Program Manager
Heifer International, North Carolina

Sandra K: Miller responds:

Last week I spoke at North Carolina State's Small Farm Conference and was informed of their prohibition of on-farm slaughter by ethnic customers. Yes, I recognize that many farmers try to get around the law with the selling of a live animal and then butchering as a "service.” I am completely against these practices as I am with "buying clubs" for raw milk or the selling of "pet food"-only products.

My article specifically addresses the issue for people who want to slaughter for ethnic and religious purposes. Laws prohibiting people from slaughtering live animals that they have purchased are discriminatory, at best. While in North Carolina, I went to a Hispanic restaurant and market to talk to people about how they deal with such prohibitive laws. Their responses included practices such as picking up a live animal, killing and bleeding it on a rural road and then sneaking it home to complete the butchering process, usually after dark or in a garage, or taking the animal to a secluded area in which to kill and clean the carcass.

North Carolina is a huge hunting state (which I took note of as I was visiting during deer and bear season). Why is it legal for a hunter to shoot and butcher a deer (or turkey, pheasant, quail, duck, etc.) for their personal consumption on someone else's property, but it is illegal when it comes to domestic small ruminants or fowl?

You are indeed right when you see the trend for the feds to "turn the screws" on small farmers/producers, however, I also see it as blatant harassment of minorities. It's perfectly legal for a "white bread" American to kill a deer, field dress it leaving the offal in the open, drag the carcass (sometimes miles) back to a vehicle where it is driven around (sometimes for hours) prior to being hung, cut up, wrapped, cooled, etc. But when a Muslim or a Mexican purchases a live goat or lamb direct from a farmer, they are not allowed to humanely dispatch, quickly clean (with water) the carcass, safely dispose of the offal and put the carcass on ice immediately so it can be transported home, often to be cooked and eaten within a day or two.

While Southern states welcome cheap South American labor, they continue in their deeply-rooted discrimination against minorities by passing laws that prevent ethnically diverse groups from maintaining their cultural identity or practicing their religion.

Further adding to the irony of this is the response from Heifer International. It seems to me that they've abandoned their roots in promoting sustainable agriculture and helping impoverished people in lieu of hopping in bed with the feds. How sustainable is it for a small farmer to spend a quarter million dollars on a USDA federal/state inspected facility that in the end would not allow their customers to kill/slaughter their own animals? It's stupidity! Is the livestock that Heifer International provides to ethnic people outside of the US being slaughtered in a government-run facility?

I took four veal calves to a USDA facility last week, and I had to go round and round with them on just keeping the sweetbreads! That wasn't on their approved list of organ meat items they were allowed to give back to the customer. The butcher will save pigs' feet but not calves'
feet. We, as Americans, are a wasteful society. Ethnic customers rarely leave much waste—less than a 5-gallon bucket for goats. They strip out the stomach and intestines, along with taking the head (including the brains). African customers will even save the blood! Sheep lungs are an integral part of Greek Kokoreisi, which is basically a kabob of internal organs with the intestines wrapped around the outside and roasted over a spit. Kanes' Barbeque, one of the leading makers of spit roasters for Greek and other ethnic communities, makes a special attachment for this delicacy. But try to get lungs from a USDA butcher. The Asians eat bull penis or chicken/turkey feet soup, but you won't see any of those at your local butcher shop. And don't even get me started on horse meat.

Ethnic customers are demanding access to their traditional foods, and the USDA is limiting their choices due to its discriminatory and arcane rules. Our country has only been around a few hundred years, the USDA far less, but people have been slaughtering their own animals for thousands of years. To deny a human being access to food is a travesty.

Welcome to America, thanks for working for minimum wage or less. Oh, by the way, you can only eat what we allow you to eat.

Sandra K. Miller