If Ikea Made Slaughterhouses

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?


12 thoughts on “If Ikea Made Slaughterhouses

  1. Reminds me of the mobile food (restaurant) trend which is growing as well. Both scenarios have their advantages and disadvantages as you explained with the msus and which I am familiar with in the mobile restaurant world. I like to think that both are good ways of creating diversity in their markets, win-win situations for everyone from producer to consumer. As long as tue standards are high to ensure quality and safety! I know ikea well and would say that if the msus mimic the standards in their food court, I’d feel more comfortable about the comparison!

  2. That’s a very good question, Chris. Overall, there’s likely no one-sized-fits-all solution. Ikea and it’s throw-away, built in obsolescence has long bothered me, even though I appreciate the solution they offer. Given the high cost of starting up even a small stationary plant, perhaps MSUs offer a bootstrap solution to prove that enough market demand exists to justify the additional investment.

    • I agree and that’s where I was going next. If a mobile unit can demonstrate it’s efficacy (for at a lesser expense), that could then get scaled-up into a stationary facility.

      On the other hand, if you already have access to a cut-and-wrap, I think it would be a good idea to at least play with the idea of adding on a kill floor. That expense would be comparable to starting a MSU.

  3. My concern over these band-aids is the myths that surround them. I think some farmers see these as a replacement to the brick and mortars. That doesn’t thrill me too much. Frequently there is a push to have mobile units in areas that have existing slaughterhouses. I find that troubling.

    • I share your concerns, Amy. In our area, there are many plants … and still, some folks think we need MSUs. I do not understand the push or these contraptions while the rest of the ship is essentially sinking! Why aren’t independent processors featured in the Times instead of these “rock star butchers (meatcutters)? Among the “better” (or laughable) reasons I’ve heard in favor of a MSU was that the operator-to-be wanted to become a butcher because “someone needs to set a new example by using the whole animal and return nutrients to the soil.” This “nose-t0-tail” or “whole head” business seems to imply the slaughter industries do not make use of the whole animal, that something is wasted. That couldn’t be further from the truth!

  4. What crap! Set a new example? Pahleease! We, as the slaughterhouse, utilize the carcass for every ounce of value we can pull out of it. Our farmer customers? Not so much! Problem with this theory is that it is the actual farmers who choose the “how” of cutting their animals, which is where much of the underutilization occurs. Sooooo, if there is under-utilized carcasses it lays solely on the same farmer that would then be using the services of the MSU. Ummm…..what example did they set there?

    Of note, this may somewhat explain why meat purchased from a small slaughterhouse/processor is generally much lower in price than that from the farmer. Just sayin’….

    My personal favorite argument for the MSU is the “more humane” crap. Gimme a break. Our livestock sleep in the holding pens awaiting slaughter (when the farmer delivers them on-time). Yeah, it’s a real free for all. Sheesh. Calm livestock makes for a happy processor. Crazed animals makes for a long day.

    Until they understand the true “whys” of the small slaughterhouse issue (and I don’t mean the fakery myths of the big packers & USDA conspiracy), the challenge will never be resolved. “Build it and they will come” mantra does not apply to small slaughterhouse’s regardless of how bad some might want it too. That is a fairytale.

    Sidenote: I have been saving my sparkly bling rockstar sunglasses for a special occasion. I’d be happy to brush off the dust for my NYT cover shoot. Heh! 😀

    • Among the farming proponents, Amy, I think they’re mostly producers who want more control over their product … but perhaps don’t really know what they’re getting into. What do you think?

      • Don’t argue with that. Question is why do they want more control? Feedback I receive tells me, they want more control because they don’t understand the process of slaughtering, carcass & meat yields, basic animal anatomy, expenses incurred in getting that live animal “meat market ready”, etc… cuz the list goes on an on.

        However, once they jump onto the processing bandwagon as greenhorns (and the utility, supply, labor, and mortgage bills start rolling in) their appreciation for their previous processor begins to bloom. One could even say burst into more than appreciation and fully develop into a true love story….and it is too late. Damage has been done.

  5. I won’t argue against any of Amy’s points. Of course MSU meat is going to be more expensive and (unless some of these niche marketers are better feeders than any I’ve run onto) the product will be (to the unbiased palate, at least) inferior to the best professionally-produced and processed beef. But there are a lot of biased palates and fat wallets out there. Let the MSUs proliferate to their Darwinian limit. A beef buck is a beef buck.

      • While they are proliferating into their ah-ha moment to their darwinian hearts content, who perishes? True craftsman processors? Only so many livestock to go around, ya know.

        When the MSU bubble bursts, will I still be around to complain about it? Or will our slaughterhouse and the 1000’s like us be a faded memory?

  6. At least from my experience and people I have met, I think MSUs are more common on this coast line than the rest of the country. I know our store started out in the middle of town and even if the money was there to remodel and include a kill floor, it simply could not be done without moving our location completely. So in turn the only way to do in-house slaughter is with a mobile unit. Granted, there is not a mobile unit around that can compare to our standards as far as quality goes but the majority of processing plants in our area run mobile slaughter trucks in order to meet the needs of custom slaughter. There are only three slaughterhouses located within 30 minutes of us, one of which is a pork only facility. The other of which is the college meats lab which only slaughters for its own use. So people in the area do not have much of a choice other than hiring a mobile unit which in turns leaves them with a custom exempt slaughter. People looking for federally inspected slaughter for resale use have to use the one slaughterhouse in the area which has up to a 6 month waiting list. Or have their cattle shipped to Harris which is located about 2 hours away. Combine that with the need people have around here for local beef and you are into all kinds of predicaments. Slaughterhouses in our area are becoming a scarcity! It is really frightening!

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