Vermont's slaughter and meat processing industry is booming, and meat inspectors at the Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets can't keep up.
That's according to Diane Bothfeld, deputy secretary at the Agency, who told participants at a policy roundtable at the Northeast Organic Farmers' Association of Vermont (NOFA) winter conference on Feb. 16 that the Agency is looking to expand its staff to meet a growing demand for locally butchered and processed meat.
The Agency has requested funding to add two more inspectors, called Food Safety Specialists; if the budget is approved by lawmakers, the safety specialist ranks would grow from seven to nine.
The number of slaughter and processing facilities in the state has more than doubled since January of 2012. There are now seven facilities, up from three in 2012, with an additional five facilities proposed for this year, according to data provided by Bothfeld.
The number of processing-only facilities has also doubled, from four in 2012 to nine in 2013.
Part of the reason for the staffing increase, officials said, is that Food Safety Specialists must pay daily visits to facilities that are in operation. Meat Programs Section Chief Randy Quenneville says that Vermont's geography makes it difficult for inspectors to travel between multiple sites in a given day.
"One inspector covering three or four processing plants in a day in itself isn't bad," Quenneville says. "But if you take into account the travel time, it starts to make a difference."
Quenneville noted that existing staffing is adequate for the current number of facilities, but said that the Agency would have trouble monitoring the additional proposed facilities without extra staffing.
Inspectors also pay occasional visits to 28 custom processing operations, which butcher meat that customers have slaughtered themselves, to check sanitation and record keeping.
Bothfeld said she expects a decision on the Agency's budget by late spring or early summer.