Issues of meat processing have been highlighted over the past year due to challenges that were exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. A recent white paper points out where improvements can be made to California’s infrastructure to help support a more resilient meat supply chain. Report co-author, Tom Tomich said that the state’s meat processing sector has been struggling for many years. However, recent events have emphasized the need for solutions.
“It’s a national issue but like with so many things its plays out in its own distinctive way in California,” said Tomich. “The bottom line is actually concerning. Small-scale facilities for slaughter and processing of meat have been closing. That’s been a decadal process…The result of this is that our smaller-scale farmers and ranchers have limited access to slaughter and processing facilities and they struggle to stay in business exactly when we need them most.”
Increased awareness of the problems within the meat processing industry should help to promote more viable solutions on a national and state level. The report points out several regulatory challenges that create barriers to making improvements. Tomich, who is the founder of the UC Davis Food Systems Lab and distinguished professor in the Department of Environmental Science and Policy, said that an expansion of current processing plants is going to be needed going forward. There will also need to be investment in new facilities to help serve producers around the state. However, issues of regulatory constraints related to things like zoning, water quality, and waste management could hamper that investment. Permitting requirements could impede future development of new facilities and larger implementation of technologies like bioremediation of wastewater and composting of solids
“It’s a bit of a catch-22 though because if you say ‘well, we’ve never done that before, so we can’t get you a permit to do it.’ That’s really the kiss of death. It’s kind of a dead-end,” Tomich explained. “And yet we’re going to need to do a lot more things that we’ve never done before a lot faster because the climate’s changing and rebuilding our local meat processing capacity is one of those things.”