Slaughterhouse provides hands-on meat lab

By Sandra Emerson

Cal Poly is known for their motto of hands on learning and for
the college of agriculture, this means their very own
slaughterhouse.

The slaughterhouse, more commonly called the Meat Lab, is
building 34 and is located on Ag. Valley Road, a small road that is
only accessible from University Ave.

The lab was built during the original construction of the campus
and is operated by Cal Poly Pomona Foundation. The meat products
produced by the students and staff are sold to the public through
the Farm Store located across from campus.

Relatively unnoticeable by most students on campus, agriculture
students are fully aware of the forty-year-old building and
consider it an important means of furthering their education.
Between the livestock on campus and the Meat Lab, students gain
experience working with the provided resources in the care and
slaughter of animals for public sale.

According to Dr. Edward Fonda, Department Chair of The Animal
and Veterinary Science Department, the lab is used as a support
program in the college’s education process.

“It involves teaching issues of food safety production,” Fonda
said. “It’s designed to teach about public health regulations.”

The facility is inspected by the USDA and works with the
National Meat Association and is required by law to follow
regulations involving meat production in order to operate.

“The bottom line here is that there are state and federal
regulations we have to correspond with,” Fonda said. “We have an on
site federal inspector. If they don’t like the facility, then they
shut it down until they [regulations] are followed.”

The lab slaughters cattle, swine, goats and sheep that are kept
on the 330 acres of rangeland and 100 acres of irrigated pasture.
They use as much of the animal that is possible in order to sell a
profitable amount of meat.

“All of the meat we slaughter or process, because we can’t
always use all of the animal, is made into retail cuts by the
students,” Fonda said. “Since it is a Foundation organization it is
under scrutiny and review from a financial standpoint. It has to be
run profitably or at least break even.”

The parts that cannot be used are required to be disposed of
according to regulations as well as the slaughtering.

“It wouldn’t be economically feasible to disregard the rest of
it. You can’t just throw it in the trash,” Fonda said. “We have
special regulations where this meat has to be disposed. We have a
licensed renderer who comes and picks up the meat and they take
care of it.”

AVS 327 is available to animal and veterinary science and hotel
and restaurant management students who want to work in the facility
to further their knowledge of meat production.

Through the training, job opportunities with the USDA and in the
meat science field open up to them after completing the degree.

“It is primarily involved in microbiology and food safety,”
Fonda said. “Even HRT students need to be aware of these
things.”

Heather Metcalf, a fourth – year animal and veterinary science
student, has taken AVS 327 but said students don’t slaughter
aniimals.

“You definitely do not slaughter an animal. The meat lab on
campus loans out the facilities to a local company and I’ve heard
from previous classes that sometimes they are able to see that
company work,” said Metcalf. “I have taken the class and I did not
see any cattle slaughtered.”

Despite the ongoing issues with PETA and animal rights activists
groups in the country, the meat lab has not had complaints or
concerns from the students who are aware of the facility’s
existence.

“I think having a meat lab on campus leads to the ‘learn by
doing’ approach of Cal Poly. Although it’s pretty rare, there are a
few students on campus who aspire to become butchers and for them,
having a meat lab on campus is a big advantage,” said Metcalf. “I
can understand that it may be hard for students who are against
slaughtering animals to have a meat lab on campus. However, it’s
part of the world we live in and I look at it as just another
aspect to the animal field.”

Salil Pandit, a third – year computer science student, lives on
campus and has purchased much of his meat from the farm store and
is not surprised that Cal Poly would have a slaughterhouse on
campus.

“I used to buy meat consistently from the farm store, where I
presume the meat is supplied heavily by the slaughterhouse,” said
Pandit. “I believe that if it is being used as a tool of learning
that there is no reason why it should not continue to reside on
this campus. Especially because Cal Poly is known as an
agriculturally heavy campus.”

According to Fonda, there was one incident some time ago with a
non-student animal rights activist group, but because of the
facility’s sturdy build their mission went unsuccessfully.

“They tried to burn the facility down, but it is made of brick
and metal,” said Fonda. “They burned the meats lab trough and set
the lab on fire.”

Since the facility is mostly used to teach students who show
interest in the field of meat processing and animal science, most
students are not aware of its presence. Its location on a lightly
populated part of campus keeps it out of plain sight from students
and visitors who drive up University Ave.

“We don’t advertise it that’s for sure, but we’re not hiding
anything,” said Fonda. “If someone wants to see it then we let them
with a scheduled appointment.”

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