The farm to table and local food movement has been a beneficiary of the health scare of 2020, and there has even been an economic benefit for some of the local Indiana meat processors as they add staff and shifts to handle increased load. Denise Derrer at the Indiana Board of Animal Health says more are inquiring about getting into the business.
“We are getting a lot of inquiries from individuals who are interested in getting into food channels as far as opening up butcher shops or doing local slaughter, local meat processing, and those types of things,” she explained. “So, folks are out there seeing opportunity for doing different work or being a part of that food channel. Of course, we know that prior to the pandemic there was a fairly big movement toward the farm to table or buying local from a lot of local farmers, and so this is very much feeding that trend.”
This also means more load for the 47 people in the meat inspection division. Supervisors are working front line inspection duties at the Board of Animal Health. Staff has been taking less paid time off and working additional shifts and weekends.
“They’re doing whatever they can to meet the extra demands because at local plants the meat cannot be sold to consumers unless it’s inspected, so someone has to be there. So, we’ve been doing our best to get that coverage done as much as we possibly can even with short staff to start with.”
Derrer says the bottleneck for inspections at local processors by a tightly staffed division of BOAH dates to well before coronavirus. It is simply the growing popularity of farm to table. That will be a continuing challenge.
“Our staff can’t continue to function that way,” the Public Information Director at BOAH told HAT. “We’re just barely holding it together as far as staff coverage. If we had a major sickness, our staff are not taking time off and those types of things. As things open back up and people want to get back to their normal lives on the Back on Track plan, we’re being challenged for how to maintain inspection services for the plants and what they want so they can meet the demand they’re having right now.”
It really creates a good news, bad news situation. Of course, the expansion of Board of Animal Health staff is constrained by both federal and state regulations.