I don't want my meat to have to come too far to see me.
January 30, 2008 4:27 PM   Subscribe

I was told there are only a dozen slaughterhouses in the US - which seems absurdly low to me. However, I am having trouble finding any evidence of this.

Minor caveats are that it might have been beef-specific. Regardless, I've been searching for slaughterhouses, list of licensed slaughterhouses, and things of this nature, and am not turning up anything. Anyone got an answer, or pointers for better searching?
posted by andifsohow to Food & Drink (12 answers total)
Maybe that's for USDA inspected slaughterhouses, but there are lots and lots of state inspected slaughterhouses (over 2000) and also some called "custom" slaughterhouses.
posted by melissam at 4:33 PM on January 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

Small-scale slaughterhouses are pretty common. There are at least a dozen in the Seattle area. You may be thinking of slaughterhouses associated with huge corporate-owned feedlots.
posted by Smilla at 4:42 PM on January 30, 2008

I could believe that there are 14 slaughterhouses that account for 80-90% of US beef supply, but there are a lot of small ones. I used to go to a small one in Snohomish county north of Seattle to get cow brains for research. As I recall it has a USDA inspector.

It is amazing how quickly things progress between live cow and side of beef.
posted by Good Brain at 4:51 PM on January 30, 2008

I can't find anything really recently but here is a USDA report from 2005 that talks about the consolidation and reorganisation that has happened in this industry: http://www.ers.usda.gov/publications/err3/err3.pdf
It seems to be using data from a report written in the late nineties.

Maybe your friend meant there are only twelve large companies doing this work now? Because the report shows that in 1992 there were 1405 meat packing plants and 1260 meat processing plants, and it's hard to believe this has been reduced to 12 in the intervening years (particularly given these numbers are after a period of consolidation). At the same time it talks about the large market share of a few companies, so the 12 number is plausible there.

A more up to date report on this would be nice and the USDA would be the place to find it, but if a new study hasn't been done this might be the most recent set of numbers (or at least numbers analysed in this way). Maybe a bit more time spent digging into their website would yield some raw data.
posted by shelleycat at 5:24 PM on January 30, 2008

This report indicates that there were at least 861 meat slaughtering and processing plants in 2001, which is at least a bit more up to date. That number is a sample rather than the whole population so doesn't give any real data, but it's a fair bit bigger than twelve (and more recent that 1992). I'm sure further digging would get more recent numbers, sadly I'm out of time today.
posted by shelleycat at 5:28 PM on January 30, 2008

I think the problem you might be having is in the search terms... there are many establishments that raise animals for food, and then kill them and prepare the meat for sale to consumers, but don't call themselves "slaughterhouses."

Are you trying to find farms that are close to you that will sell you meat? Have you tried Eat Wild?
posted by pineapple at 5:30 PM on January 30, 2008

You may have heard that a majority of the meat consumed in the US is slaughtered in a dozen slaughterhouses. That's probably true enough. But the killing and butchering of meat happens everywhere. If you want local meat, look for a local CSA or co-op.
posted by Toekneesan at 6:18 PM on January 30, 2008

Isn't "cold storage" code for slaughterhouse? I see those all over the place, and used to live next door to the place in downtown L.A. where all the ducks got "processed" or "rendered" or whatever they like to call it.
posted by mrhappy at 7:17 PM on January 30, 2008

The Meat, Poultry and Egg Product Inspection Directory is a listing of establishments that produce meat, poultry, and/or egg products regulated by USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) pursuant to the Federal Meat Inspection Act, the Poultry Products Inspection Act, and the Egg Products Inspection Act.

The January 2008 directory PDF is 3.9Mb.
posted by ormondsacker at 7:32 PM on January 30, 2008

And here's a more focused list - 1,924 U.S. meat packing plants, categorized by state and type of meat used. There are 107 listed slaughterhouses in California.
posted by ormondsacker at 7:42 PM on January 30, 2008

Review of the US Meat Packing Industry with the top ten companies by revenue.
Just ten companies have sales amounting to more than $80 billion of the slightly more than $100 billion in sales for the industry in 2004. The meat packing industry has become highly concentrated as the actual production and sales have fallen into the hands of fewer and fewer companies. The four largest beef packers increased their share of the industry's slaughter and processing output from 25 percent in 1977 to 80 percent in 2002. Over the same period of time, the four largest hog packers increased their share of the hog slaughter from 36 percent to more than 65 percent. Ranking in order of production, the four largest beef packers are: Tyson Foods (IBP is now part of), Cargill Meat (formerly Excel), Swift & Co. (spun off from ConAgra) and Smithfield Foods (Farmland and other acquired beef companies).

Coinciding with the concentration of production into the hands of fewer operators has been the closing of competitor's plants. Since 1980, the number of slaughter plants has plunged from more than 600 to 170 cattle slaughterers. Since 1980, the number of hog slaughter plants has been reduced from more than 500 to 180. The number of processing plants has also been decreasing. Nearly most of the closed plants were small facilities. Smaller operators who do not have a special market niche simply cannot compete with the predatory practices of the big operators and the huge advantages that come with the economy of scale both in the purchase of live animals and every day plant production operations.
posted by Miko at 7:55 PM on January 30, 2008

Awesome, it looks like ormondsacker found the info I was digging for.
posted by shelleycat at 8:34 PM on January 30, 2008

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