SALEM, Ohio – Farmers want to get their beef and pork into their neighbors’ stomachs and make a little profit at the same time. But the days are long gone when farmers could slaughter their animals out back, process the meat and sell steaks out of their kitchen freezers.
Now there are restrictions and rules. And the Ohio Department of Agriculture is watching.
Four department officials met with approximately 50 producers in Geauga County March 30 and attempted to clear the confusion surrounding meat processing.
‘In the way.’ “We just want to be able to sell to the community. And you’re in the way a little bit,” one Geauga County resident told the ODA officials.
“Don’t take this to heart,” food safety specialty Ron Ross said, trying to calm the heated discussion. “We’re not after you.”
It’s a matter of playing it safe, he cautioned. There are several thousand farms across Ohio. Most of them are doing things right, but it only takes one guy to get it wrong, Ross said. Carelessness isn’t an option with food safety.
What’s your meat say? Producers who want to sell their beef, pork, lamb or goat meat directly to the public have several options, the officials said.
First, if you want to sell retail and your meat is coming back from the butcher with a “not-for-sale” sticker, you’re in trouble, said Mike Hockman, Division of Meat Inspection chief.
Meat should either be labeled with a mark of inspection that looks like the outline of Ohio or a “not-for-sale” label.
The marks of inspection certify the meat went through a fully inspected processor, Hockman said. This means an inspector is present for every slaughter and does pre- and post-mortem examinations. Meat with this label can be sold to the public.
“Not-for-sale” meat comes from a custom processor. This person processes the meat specifically for the farmer’s own consumption.
Where can you sell? Farmers who want to market their own cuts of beef need to send their animals to a fully inspected slaughterer and butcher. The meat they bring home must have the mark of inspection on the packages.
But, producers at the Geauga County meeting raised their eyebrows when they heard they must have a retail license from their local health department if they bring that meat back to the farm to sell.
If, however, the buyers come to the processor to pick up their meat, the farmer does not need a retail license, said Bill Pritchard, meat inspection supervisor.
Regardless of whether a producer needs a health department license, they all need to be registered with the department of agriculture, Pritchard said.
Requirements for cattle, swine, goats and lamb vary from those for poultry. Producers with 1,000 chickens, 250 turkeys or 500 hens or less can butcher and sell their meat on their own property without a license.
At-home butchering. Farmers can slaughter and process their meat at home without any licensing, but the meat can only be consumed by the farmer and his immediate family. It cannot be sold.
If a farmer wants to do this at home but wants to be able to sell the meat, he must become a licensed, registered establishment and is essentially starting his own butcher shop, Pritchard said.
Not for sale. Farmers who have their meat processed at a custom facility and have it stamped “not for sale” can still sell their meat; it’s just trickier.
The customers buying the meat have to pay for it before the animal is slaughtered, Pritchard said. This means ownership is transferred before the animal is killed and before the animal even goes to the processor.
At this point, the processors are basically providing a service to the buyers rather than to the farmers, he said.
Safety first. Although many farmers at the Geauga County meeting thought the regulations seemed harsh, veterinary supervisor Mike Sabihi said the rules are needed.
“If everyone wants to slaughter at home and sell to their neighbor [without any rules], we’d have a lot of sick people,” he said.
In fact, he said, the state actually has eased these rules in recent years.
It used to require blueprints with measurements of the facilities and detailed plans that could cost several thousand dollars, he said.
Now, Pritchard added, the emphasis has shifted to whether a wholesome, safe product can be made in that environment.
Willing to help. Ohio Department of Agriculture is the first to admit meat processing is a complicated topic.
All four department officials agreed you can’t make blanket statements because situations vary by farm and facilities.
If you have questions, call your local health department, extension office, trade groups, and anyone else who can answer questions, Pritchard said. It’s best to have these questions answered before there’s a potential problem.
“And don’t be hesitant to call ODA,” Pritchard said. “We’re more than willing to discuss these things.”
(Reporter Kristy Hebert welcomes feedback by phone at 800-837-3419, ext. 23 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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