So many consumer trends favor small companies now ” the desire for locally produced foods, interest in different flavors, general distrust toward “big business”” that this should be a boom time for independent meat and poultry processors. Indeed, many of them are doing very well, even in tough times. Our third annual Top 75 Report is testament to that.

However, this industry is also seeing more small companies closing up shop, leaving communities and local farmers without a needed and valued service. These plant closings could be for several reasons. The economy has caused more than its share of businesses, big and small alike, to close down. The owner could have run out of money or just decided to retire. It’s not all about money, though. Increasingly, small companies dealing with increased state or federal regulations may have decided that the burden just isn’t worth it anymore.

A new study does a good job of showing the current landscape for small packers and the small farmers that utilize them. The study by USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service is a first attempt to identify areas in the U.S. where small livestock and poultry producers are concentrated but may not have access to a nearby slaughter facility.

You can see the maps for yourself at According to the maps, there are 568 beef slaughter operations, 545 pork slaughter operations and 89 poultry slaughter operations that are federally inspected, (they don’t state if there is any overlap here), along with 629 beef slaughter, 648 pork slaughter and 19 poultry slaughter operations that are state inspected. They tend to be concentrated in the Upper Midwest and Mid-Atlantic regions. The numbers really taper off in the Southeast, and if you’re a farmer west of the Mississippi River, good luck.

If the Obama Administration really wants to preserve the way of life of the American farmer, this is its wake-up call. There are many counties in which the farmer has no access to slaughter facilities. The small packers and processors that serve these farmers need assistance, not increased and very expensive testing and regulations.

Certainly, food safety must be a priority at any-sized food establishment. However, burying small slaughterhouses, meat shops, farms and processing plants under even more red tape will only make the situation worse.

Sam Gazdziak