If Ikea made slaughterhouses, they would probably be something like the mobile slaughter units (MSU) that many of us have read about in 2010. I am sitting at an Ikea desk in my home office as I write this, having realized that this piece of furniture is in no way one of those “investment” pieces of furniture that I hope to have someday. It’s not something that I will likely pass along to future generations. It was a relatively inexpensive (not necessarily “cheap”) piece of furniture — but I doubt the particle board and laminate work surface will last very long.
I bought it because I needed a desk, it looked good, and it was inexpensive. It is a temporary solution to an ongoing situation: the need for a desk. Similarly, this is why a handful of MSUs have popped up around the country. Those that are “sustainable” (in a business sense … capable of drumming up sufficient business to keep them operating) do so because they have a sufficient market. There are no other slaughterhouses to serve the livestock producers in their “local” radius.
The model for these celebrated abattoirs originated on the islands of Puget Sound, where farmers needed a way to process livestock without boarding the ferry, combating traffic, and a plethora of infrastructure problems. This has worked! Now there is a huge push for MSUs on the mainland, with much thrust coming from food writers, farmers, and even some select folks in D.C. Somehow, the MSU ideal has evolved into the panacea of slaughter infrastructure. But is it really only a band-aid on a hemorrhaging problem?
With MSUs, there exist various challenges, many of which have been creatively solved, yet there are others still looming. Moving these things around requires diesel fuel, and a driver with a commercial driver’s license. Environmental regulations differ by state — this can pose challenges for wastewater and inedible offal disposal. Sometimes animal handling challenges bubble up. There are topographical challenges … mountainous terrain poses a roadblock to large top-heavy trailers. And, there is still need for a brick-and-mortar cut-and-wrap facility (though I know of a few people toying with the idea of a mobile cut-and-wrap, I’m certain this will pose logistical challenges for aging of carcasses and meat distribution to customers). As well, it is not understood what sort of maintenance costs a MSU will require.
Would it be better to invest in a slaughterhouse with a foundation? Like my Swedish designed desk, are MSUs a trendy, short-term solution? The MSU can work very well in certain applications. For others, are they just a quick fix?