Consumers Want To Eat More Local Beef, But There Aren’t Enough Butchers These Days

Does the idea of a hard day at work cutting up cattle carcasses appeal to you? If not, you’re not alone: Despite the growing trend toward eating more local beef, there simply aren’t enough people going into the profession of butchering to meet the increased demand.

The Associated Press spoke to one butcher who’s been in the meat-processing business for 38 years slaughtering cattle, who says he can see why few people want to get into the profession these days.

“It’s killing cows. It’s blood and guts,” he explains. He runs a small company with his wife in Iowa, and his three kids don’t want to follow in his footsteps.

Across the country, thousands of butchers are getting closer to retirement, without enough younger butchers with small companies willing to take on the task. In Iowa, for example, there were 450 small meat processors. Now, there are 140 or fewer.

This means small farmers who are already trucking their cattle 50 or 100 miles to get the meat processed by butchering businesses have to pass those increased transportation costs onto retailers and then, consumers.

But as butchers age out of the profession, those farmers will have to look elsewhere to get their beef to stay “local.” As it stands right now, those small meat processors are overwhelmed with business, and can’t find enough workers to keep up.

“We’re booked like four to five months in advance,” said the owner of a butchering shop in Ohio. And “finding anyone to help to work is harder and harder.”

To be sure, there are some new shops opening up as the demand for specialty meat grows, but it’s not easy or cheap to do so, Lauren Gwin, a professor at Oregon State University who coordinates the Niche Meat Processor Assistance Network told the AP.

“It’s a complex business,” said Gwin, whose group’s goal is to overcome the issues facing the industry. “You have to know a lot of things to run a business like this.”

More want local beef, but fewer want tough job of cutting it [Associated Press]

Want more consumer news? Visit our parent organization, Consumer Reports, for the latest on scams, recalls, and other consumer issues.