Assessing the Food and Environmental Safety and Economic Feasibility of Mobile Slaughter Units for Pasture Poultry Grower

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2011: $240,780.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2013
Region: Southern
State: Georgia
Principal Investigator:
Alali Walid
University of Georgia

Annual Reports


  • Animals: poultry


  • Education and Training: general education and training
  • Farm Business Management: feasibility study
  • Production Systems: organic agriculture

    Proposal abstract:

    The demand for locally produced food in the United States continues to grow. Pasture poultry production is a sustainable farming system that has been adopted by many small-scale farmers in the Southeast and elsewhere. Pasture poultry farmers are at a significant disadvantage when it comes to addressing consumer demand for their locally produced chickens because birds processed on-farm are exempted from USDA inspection and do not qualify for USDA Inspected status. Due to this exemption, pasture poultry sales have been limited to sales to household consumers and very few food service market venues. The USDA-FSIS (Food Safety Inspection Service) has recently released a recommendation guide “Mobile Slaughter Unit Compliance Guide” intended for mobile processing unit (MPU) owners and managers who want their unit to be USDA inspected in accordance with FSIS regulations. In addition, FSIS has indicated in a recent study that there is shortage in the availability of slaughter facilities to small meat and poultry producers. Due to the lack of data on both the food safety risks of chicken processed in MPU and the environmental impact of waste disposal, this FSIS guide recommends assessment of food safety that relate to the MPU processing and products, and assessment of the impact on the environment. The goals of this project are to: 1) determine the food safety risk of MPU processing and product compared to on-farm and processing at small USDA facilities, 2) assess the impact of MPU waste disposal on the environment compared to the other types of processing, 3) assess the economic feasibility of pasture poultry processing using MPU versus other types of processing, and 4) evaluate the consumers' willingness to pay (WTP) for pasture poultry versus other non-local chicken brands. Information dissemination of the research findings to pasture poultry farmers and training the farmers on food safety, Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP) programs and Good Agriculture Practices (GAPs) for MPU will be conducted. Knowledge gained from this project will support the pasture poultry farmers by fulfilling a large part of the federal inspection requirements on food safety and environmental impact of MPU processing and products. The project will also generate valuable data to farmers on the economic feasibility of MPU and the market access by examining consumers' WTP for local products. This will allow them to strategic budgetary decisions with less infrastructure investment risk. This application conforms to organic farming systems priority on evaluation of the biological (microbial contamination) and economic (feasibility and marketability) processes associated with MPU processing/production of organic (all-natural) pasture poultry production systems in the Southeast. The proposed study addresses the mission of the Southern SARE program by assessing the food safety, environment, economics, marketability of agriculture practices (i.e., MPU versus on-farm and small USDA facility processing) that is expected to greatly benefit small-sized pasture poultry farmers and their families.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    1. Assess the food safety risk (concentrations of foodborne pathogens) on pasture poultry chicken carcasses processed using MPU compared to traditional on-farm processing and chicken processed at a small volume USDA facility.
    (Leader-Alali; Co-PIs: Ricke, Jaroni, Gibson, C. Owens)

    Approach: Investing farmers' money in a sustainable MPU requires ensuring that chicken products will be safe for consumption and chicken processing has low impact on the environment. In this objective, we will compare the concentrations of the two most common foodborne pathogens (i.e., Salmonella and Campylobacter) on pasture chickens processed on-farm and at a USDA facility in Georgia, Louisiana and Arkansas, and those processed using a unit similar to a MPU that will be used as a pilot plant at Department of Poultry Science of UARK.

    2. Assess the biosafety risk of pathogens in waste disposal (wastewater and solid waste) of poultry processing (MPU vs. on-farm) on the environment.
    (Leader-Gibson; Co-PIs: Ricke, Crandall, Jaroni, Sharpley, Alali, C. Owens)

    Approach: We will assess the environmental impact of wastewater and solid waste (i.e., feathers, heads, fecal matter, and viscera) disposal when processing pasture bird on-farm and via MPU. Survival of Salmonella and Campylobacter in soil, where wastewater is disposed, and in compost, where solid waste is treated before using as fertilizer, will be assessed.

    3. Evaluate the economic feasibility of MPU for pasture farmers as a potential source to increase poultry products marketability. Furthermore, pasture poultry farmers in Georgia, Arkansas, and Louisiana will be surveyed to evaluate their interest and willingness to process their birds in MPU.
    (Leader- Kostandini; Co-PIs: Van Loo, Welander, C. Owens)

    Approach: The economic impacts of pasture poultry in the three states will be assessed considering a variety of relevant adoption and market expansion scenarios as well as MPU-related policy changes.

    4. Assess the consumers' willingness to pay for pasture chickens compared to USDA certified-organic chickens in the three states using 'consumer experiments'.
    (Leader- Van Loo; Co-PIs: Ricke, Crandall, Alali)

    Approach: A product label is a quality signal for the consumer and is an important tool to help consumers identify specific attributes of products and help differentiate products. Consumers will be asked about their willingness to pay for whole chicken that is “locally-produced” versus “non-locally-produced” brands. Furthermore, consumers will be asked whether the label on chicken matters in terms of price (i.e. USDA inspected versus other types of branding). The consumer's WTP for different attributes will be evaluated with the use of a choice experiment.

    Information Dissemination and Outreach Plan:
    Develop and disseminate leading edge training programs to enable rural farmers and processors to implement and capitalize on this project's findings.
    (Leader- Crandall; Co-PIs: Shabatura, Ricke, Van Loo; Alali, Welander, Rolls, J. Owens, Jaroni, Tescher)

    Approach: The research findings on MPU feasibility and economic benefits of pasture production, as well as food and environmental safety will be disseminated to farmers. Pasture farmers will be trained on food safety, HACCP programs, and GAPs for MPU through workshops and seminars held at the three participating institutions and at various Poultry Health meetings. Moreover, study findings will be reported in peer-reviewed (scientific), poultry extension periodicals, Georgia Organics and Georgia Pasture Poultry Working Group, National Center for Sustainable Agriculture (NCAT, Fayetteville, AR), Arkansas Association of Food Protection web-based media outlet, and Louisiana local cooperative extension sponsored seminars in East Baton Rouge Parish.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.