Senator Ken Jacobsen (D-Seattle) is one of four state senators taking the lead on SB 5004, which extends Rural Washington Loan Fund loans to people


State Looks to Support Mobile Slaughter Units

Senator Ken Jacobsen (D-Seattle) is one of four state senators taking the lead on SB 5004, which extends Rural Washington Loan Fund loans to people interested in setting up USDA-certified mobile slaughter units. A mobile slaughter unit is outfitted with a USDA inspector and allows farmers to humanely kill and butcher animals on site at the ranch. No long trips to the USDA kill sites, the MSU is considered the most humane way to process cattle and other animals, with far less fear or agitation on the part of the animals in their last hours. As reported by Cookson Beecher (bitchin' name) in the Capital Press, SP 5004 aims to promote local meat production by supporting this integral part of the ranching process. Consumers may not know just how difficult these final steps are for small farms--especially when following government regulations, in a way more difficult than pasturing the animals.

Last week, I talked to Eiko Vojkovich, co-owner of the Skagit River Ranch, to whom we presented our Sustainability Award this year. She said that the advent of the mobile slaughter unit in the Skagit Valley changed their lives: "The mobile slaughter unit allowed us to get USDA-certified in order to sell to stores, restaurants, or farmers markets. Before the MSU, we would have to go 200 to 300 miles away to the kill plant, come back, then go pick up the meat. That would limit us to sell quarters, sides, and fulls, but not sell to the customers the way we do now."

However, just setting up an MSU doesn't guarantee that it will become successful. The local community needs to support it. "Mobile slaughter units have to have very committed farmers; we need to keep that butcher in business. You have to keep everybody working," explained Eiko. "Through the Island-Grown Farmers Cooperative, we've tried to come up with a winter kill program [instead of slaughtering all the animals in the summer and fall, when they're at their heaviest]. We also have the butcher do chef training to show cooks how to break down the animal, raising money to keep everyone afloat and keep the butcher in business."

According to Jim Wieringa, the manager at IGFC, "It's great for preserving farmland and processing animals locally and selling locally. Our unit itself was funded with a grant back in 2000." (In fact the IGFC was the first MSU in the country to be USDA approved and hass become a beacon for those pursuing similar programs in this country and Canada.) These loans could take a little bit of the sustainability burden off of the Island-Grown Farmers Cooperative and bring MSUs to small farms around the state, many of whom face the same obstacles to getting their animals to market that Skagit River Ranch did years ago. Right now there are two mobile slaughter units working in the state, with a third coming on line.

To express your support for SB 5004, contact the following senators: Ken Jacobsen, Dan Swecker, Kevin Ranker, and Pam Roach.

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