In the recent past, most farm operations included at least minimal animal production.   However, declining livestock auction markets and vertical integration in the livestock and poultry industries has limited marketing opportunities for small scale livestock and poultry farmers.   Selling directly to consumers is one means of retaining a presence in this potentially lucrative and rewarding business.   Ongoing consumer concerns regarding food safety and the increasing interest in animal welfare should increase demand for direct farm sales of meat and poultry products.  Moreover, in a 2004 study of restaurant and commercial food buyers, the most important factor in selecting a new supplier was obtaining the highest quality food available—a characteristic that provides an opportunity for local, direct market farm operations. 

In order to participate in this market, however, producers must navigate a series of state and federal regulations relating to the production, slaughter and processing of meat and poultry products.   This chapter will address raising, slaughtering and processing requirements.  The facility may also be subject to the Livestock Facilities Management Act, the EPA’s water permitting regulations, or the National Animal Identification System, discussed in Chapter 2 – Setting Up the Direct Farm Business. 

  1.  Raising and Caring for Animals

A.  Animal Welfare Laws

The Humane Care for Animals Act (510 ILCS 70) requires that owners of animals provide:

  • sufficient quantities of good quality, wholesome food and water
  • adequate protection and shelter from the weather
  • veterinary care when needed to prevent suffering
  • humane care and treatment 

(510 ILCS 70/3).  The Act prohibits beating, cruelly treating, tormenting, starving, overworking, or otherwise abusing any animal (510 ILCS 70/3.01).  However, nothing in the Act is intended to affect "normal, good husbandry practices utilized by any person for the production of food. . . ." (510 ILCS 70/13).  The regulations implementing the Act generally focus on the care and upkeep of companion animals.  The Act largely should not be a concern for livestock and poultry operations as long as the care provided meets the minimum standards that are common practice in the industry.

The Illinois Brand Act

The Illinois Brand Act (510 ILCS 40) explicitly authorizes branding of livestock.  Brands must first be registered with the Department of Agriculture by submitting a form and paying the $15 fee (510 ILCS 40/5; 40/8).  Brands must be at least three inches in diameter, although IDOA may approve smaller brands for smaller animals such as goats and sheep (510 ILCS 40/2.05).  Farmers are not required to brand their animals, but branding serves as prima facie[1] evidence of ownership if there is ever a title dispute or criminal proceedings (e.g. livestock theft) (510 ILCS 40/9).

The Feeding Garbage to Animals Act

The Feeding Garbage to Animals Act (720 ILCS 610) prohibits feeding garbage to swine, poultry or any animals on a farm (720 ILCS 610/2).  The Act defines garbage as “putrescible vegetable waste, animal, poultry, or fish carcasses or parts thereof resulting from the handling, preparation, cooking, or consumption of food, but does not include the contents of the bovine digestive tract.  ‘Garbage’ also means the bodies or parts of bodies of animals, poultry or fish” (720 ILCS 610/1).  These practices, particularly feeding meat scraps and dead animals to swine, can lead to the spread of difficult-to-control diseases such as hoof-and-mouth disease or Bovine Spongiform Encephalitis (BSE). Therefore, IDOA watches for violations and enforces this law rigorously.

B.  Diseased Animals and Dead Animal Disposal

The Diseased Animal Act

The Diseased Animal Act (510 ILCS 50) directs the Department of Agriculture to implement programs for the suppression, prevention, and extirpation of contamination or infectious and contagious diseases of animals in Illinois.  The regulations implementing the law establish general requirements for reporting, quarantining, and controlling diseases as well as specific programs for particularly problematic diseases (8 IAC 85).  In addition to the general Act, there are specific laws and regulations for bovine brucellosis (510 ILCS 30; 8 IAC 75), swine brucellosis (510 ILCS 95; 8 IAC 100), other swine diseases (510 ILCS 100; 8 IAC 105), bovidae and cervidae tuberculosis (510 ILCS 35; 8 IAC 80), control of pseudorabies (510 ILCS 90; 8 IAC 115), and equine infection anemia (510 ILCS 65; 8 IAC 116).  These diseases raise concerns because they compromise animal health and productivity, and may pose public health risks due to potential transfer to humans during slaughter or through consumption.  Some diseases have been eradicated in Illinois (brucellosis, pseudorabies, and turberculosis), so transport restrictions are particularly important for preventing the reintroduction of the diseases.  A farmer must therefore obtain a permit from IDOA to bring an animal into Illinois from out-of-state (8 IAC 85.150).  

Anyone who suspects an animal has a reportable disease, including but not limited to avian influenza, bovine tuberculosis, pseudorabies, and Johne’s disease, must report the case to IDOA immediately at 217-782-4944 (8 IAC 85.10).  Anyone having knowledge of the disease or responsible for its spread may be liable for fines and penalties (Id.).[2]  The full list of “contagious or infectious diseases” is online at 8 IAC 85.12.  IDOA has authority to issue quarantines if the department suspects that animals are infected with or have been exposed to [3]dangerous diseases (510 ILCS 50/3).  IDOA prohibits the sale of animals subject to a quarantine unless IDOA specifically approves the sale (8 IAC 85.25).  IDOA  may destroy animals with contagious or infectious diseases and any potentially infected property (510 ILCS 50/4).

Farmers purchasing, selling, or exhibiting animals should be aware of risk management and herd certification programs that pertain to particular diseases and/or species (8 IAC 85).  Program details depend on the disease and animal type; however, they are capable of some generalizations.  Herds that have never tested positive for particular diseases are eligible for certification programs, while herds that have had one or more infected animals are subject to risk management programs.  Risk management programs restrict movement through quarantines or impose standards on modes of transporting the herd.  IDOA may lift the restrictions after the farmer proves there is no longer an infection.  For instance, the farmer may destroy or cure the diseased animals and regularly test the rest of the herd for a certain period of time.

The Animals Intended for Food Act

The Animals Intended for Food Act (410 ILCS 605/1) authorizes IDOA to inspect animals intended for food in order to prevent unsound, unhealthful, unwholesome, or otherwise unfit food from entering the food supply.  The Act also authorizes quarantining or destruction of animals that have a disease that makes them unfit for human consumption (410 ILCS 605/2; 605/2.1).  The provisions of this Act replicate the Diseased Animal Act (discussed above) and the meat and poultry inspection programs (discussed below); therefore, IDOA has not issued specific regulations or rules for administering this Act.

The Dead Animal Disposal Act

The Dead Animal Disposal Act (225 ILCS 610) requires proper disposal of the bodies or parts of dead animals within 24 hours after death (225 ILCS 610/17 (a)).  Farmers may contract to have licensed collection centers or rendering facilities[4] dispose of the animal, or farmers may dispose of the bodies of dead animals themselves either by disposal on the site where the death of the animal occurred or by transporting them to a licensed landfill willing to accept animals.  Animal body parts may be transported to a licensed landfill only in the case of on-site slaughter or an on-site necropsy performed to determine the cause of the animal’s death (225 ILCS 610/17(b)).

There are strict guidelines for self-disposal of animals.  The owner (or owner’s agent) must also use the most direct route possible, use a truck with a bed that prevents leaking, and cover the animal during transport (8 IAC 90.105).  Methods of on-the-farm disposal include (a) incineration, (b) burying in a manner that prevents the spread of disease and contamination of water supplies and (c)-(g) composting according to specific guidelines for each type of animal (poultry, fish, swine, or cattle, sheep and goats) (8 IAC 90.110). 

  1. Slaughtering and Processing

A.  Humane Slaughter

Although most farmers do not slaughter their own animals, the laws pertaining to the humane slaughter of animals are worth noting.  For one thing, if part of the retail marketing of the meat entails advertising humane treatment, slaughtering methods matter as much as raising and care.  The laws are also relevant because a slaughterhouse that fails to comply with these rules may also fail to comply with other rules pertaining to food safety, which could damage a producer’s reputation and increase exposure to legal liability.

The Federal Humane Slaughter Act

The Federal Humane Slaughter Act (7 USC § 1901) requires that animals be slaughtered humanely.  Approved humane methods either render the animal unconscious quickly or comply with Jewish or other religious methods that quickly cause unconsciousness due to anemia from a cut to the carotid artery (7 USC § 1902).

The Illinois Humane Slaughter of Livestock Act 

The Illinois Humane Slaughter of Livestock Act (510 ILCS 75) and regulations (8 IAC 50) similarly prohibits slaughterers and packers from slaughtering animals in an inhumane manner (510 ILCS 75/3).  A slaughterer is a person regularly engaged in commercial slaughtering (510 ILCS 75/2(3)).  A packer is a person in the business of slaughtering, manufacturing meat, or otherwise preparing meat for sale (510 ILCS 75/3(5)).  Humane method means the animal is rendered senseless of pain (e.g., a gunshot or other quick method) before being shackled, hoisted, thrown, cast or cut, or any method in accordance with Jewish or other faiths where the animal loses consciousness from anemia to the brain from a cut to the carotid artery (510 ILCS 75/2(6)).  The Act prohibits using bludgeoning devices (e.g., hammers) to render the animal unconscious or hoisting the animal before it is unconscious (510 ILCS 75/3).

B.  Processing Meat and Poultry Products

Meat and poultry processors are subject to federal or state laws and regulations regarding licensure and inspection.  The USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) oversees federally licensed and inspected facilities.  The Illinois Department of Agriculture enforces Illinois laws and regulations applicable to Illinois registered facilities.  Whether a direct farm meat or poultry producer contracts with a state or federally licensed slaughterhouse will depend on a number of factors, including whether the producer is shipping across state lines and whether potential customers (such as restaurants) require that meat originate from a federally licensed facility.

As a general rule, each facility engaging in processing must have an inspection and license from either the USDA or IDOA.  For instance, in sausage production, the facility that slaughters the animal must have a permit and the facility that processes the sausage, if it is a separate facility, also must have a permit.  In rare circumstances, a producer can slaughter and process its own poultry.  Although most slaughtering and processing is done at slaughterhouses, mobile processing units, which are often more accommodating of small producers, may be available in certain areas.[5]


As noted above, in order to sell across state lines, farmers must take their animals to a federally licensed facility for slaughtering and processing (21 U.S.C. §§ 601; 603).  The Federal Meat Inspection Act (21 U.S.C. §§ 601-695) and accompanying regulations (9 C.F.R. Parts 300-599) govern facilities that slaughter or process meat.  Some customers, such as restaurants (who have insurance companies imposing requirements on them), may demand that meat originate from a federally inspected facility even if not sold across state lines.  If a producer intends to sell meat only within Illinois (i.e., not in interstate commerce), the meat may come from a facility inspected according to the Illinois Meat and Poultry Inspection Act (225 ILCS 650) and regulations (8 IAC 125), which incorporate the federal rules.  

The USDA places an “inspected and passed” stamp on federally inspected meat, using food-grade ink (21 U.S.C. § 606).  The mark is put on carcasses and major cuts, but might not appear on retail cuts such as roasts and steaks.  Producers can also request that USDA grade their meat (7 C.F.R. Parts 53 and 54).  Whereas an inspection qualifies the meat for sale to consumers, grading certifies that the meat is of a particular quality.  Mandatory USDA inspections are free of charge, but producers must pay for grading services (7 C.F.R. §§ 53.18, 54.28).  For more information on how inspections and grading differ, visit the FSIS website.  To transport meat across state lines, the packer must affix a federally pre-approved label (9 C.F.R. 317.1).  More information on the approval process for labels is available on the FSIS website.

Illinois inspected facilities, from which meat may only be sold intrastate, fall into two categories.  IDOA authorizes Type I facilities to receive live animals for slaughter and processing, and may package and label the product for intrastate sales (225 650/5.1).  Type II facilities, however, may only slaughter and process live animals as a service to the specific animal’s owner (225 ILCS 650/5.2).  Type II facilities must conspicuously label the meat they process as “NOT FOR SALE – NOT INSPECTED” (Id.).  Inspections and certifications of both types of facilities are according  to the federal standards (225 ILCS 650/16).

The following graphic provides an overview of the federal and state meat inspection and licensing process: 

A good source for guidance on marketing meat is How to Direct Market Your Beef.  The guide is written by Jan Holder, a rancher who successfully direct markets beef with a "grass-fed" claim, and discusses Holder’s experience in complying with laws governing the slaughter, processing, and marketing of beef. 

On a final note, the Horse Meat Act (225 ILCS 635) outlaws processing horse meat for human consumption in Illinois.  However, zoos may use horse meat to feed exotic animals, and animal feed producers may include it to produce exotic animal feed.  Recent attempts to repeal this Act have failed.


As a general rule, poultry products that move in interstate commerce are subject to the federal Poultry Products Inspection Act (PPIA) (21 U.S.C. §§ 451-471) and regulations (9 C.F.R. Part 381), which require poultry slaughter and/or processing of poultry products to undergo mandatory inspection.  Some operations, however, are exempt from federal inspection.  Even if the operation is exempt from federal inspection, state inspection requirements may apply unless the operation qualifies for a state level exemption. 

Federal Inspection Exceptions for Poultry

Direct farm businesses meeting certain criteria listed below may sell poultry products directly to consumers without securing PPIA's otherwise mandatory inspection requirements (21 U.S.C. § 464; 9 C.F.R. § 381.10).  In general, all exempt facilities must slaughter healthy chickens in a sanitary manner, and ensure that they handle the birds properly (Id.). On a basic level, slaughtering is exempt when it is done by:

  • the producer for personal use;
  • a slaughterer who provides a service to an owner of live chickens and is not selling poultry to any consumers;
  • a producer-grower who slaughters and sells the poultry they themselves have raised (1,000 bird limit, or 20,000 limit as long as only distributed intrastate);
  • producer-growers that sell direct to consumers;
  • slaughterers who purchased live poultry specifically to sell direct to consumers;
  • small businesses that process fewer than 20,000 birds annually and the processing only goes as far as cutting up the birds; and
  • a retail business that is merely cutting up birds for the store.

The intricacies of whether a producer or slaughterer qualifies for the exemption, and which sales are exempt, are more complex and nuanced than the above list.  Therefore, producers should contact an FSIS district office for an individualized analysis before proceeding without obtaining an inspection and license. FSIS has published Guidance for Determining Whether a Poultry Slaughter or Processing Operation is Exempt from Inspection Requirements of the Poultry Products Inspection Act, which is available onlineThe guidance document contains a helpful decision flowchart (p. 5) and a table (p. 21) to help determine whether the operation is exempt from the PPIA.  

Regardless of the exemption, processors are never exempt from the PPIA's prohibitions against misbranding and adulteration (injurious to health, or held, packed or produced under unsanitary conditions).  Attachment 2 to the Guidance for Determining Whether…Exempt (linked above) summarizes sanitary hygiene requirements contained in the Code of Federal Regulations (9 C.F.R. § 416), and the FSIS Sanitation Performance Compliance Guide, which is available on the FSIS website.   

State Inspection Exceptions for Poultry

The Meat and Poultry Inspection Act (225 ILCS 650) and regulations (8 IAC §§ 125.310 - .410) apply to the slaughter, processing, and marketing of poultry and poultry products.  Poultry producers who wish to slaughter and process their own poultry are exempt from the Act if they meet all of the following criteria:

  • raise poultry on their own farms or premises;
  • slaughter, eviscerate, or further process not more than 5,000 birds per calendar year;
  • slaughter, prepare, sell or deliver to the consumer on or from the premises where the exemption is given;
  • slaughter and/or prepare poultry or poultry products in sanitary facilities, under sanitary conditions, and subject the facility to periodic inspection by IDOA personnel;
  • submit a written request for exemption to IDOA (valid for two years); and
  • do not sell or buy poultry products other than those produced from poultry raised on the farm.

(225 ILCS § 650/5).  The exemption is effective only upon written confirmation of receipt from IDOA (Id.).  Producers must keep adequate records to establish that they did not slaughter or process more than the number of exempted poultry in the calendar year (Id.).  Producers must maintain records for one year after the two-year exemption terminates (Id.). 

In addition, the regulations incorporate the federal prohibition against misbranding and adulteration, regardless of the inspection exemption (9 IAC § 125.110).  It is important to note that the law specifically requires the seller to note in any advertisement that the poultry is exempt from inspection under the Act (225 ILCS 650/5).

For a helpful summary of processing options and a chart on what kind of sales those options enable, see Richard Schell’s Guide to Meat Regulations in Illinois.

  1. Marketing Meat and Poultry Products

A.  Labeling and Storing Meat and Poultry Products

The federal Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) regulates meat and poultry product labeling under the Federal Meat Inspection Act (FMIA) and the Poultry Products Inspection Act (PPIA).  These laws explicitly preempt any state law that adds to or is different than these federal laws (21 U.S.C. § 678; 21 U.S.C. § 467(e)).  The FDA also establishes labeling requirements for “food products” under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act. Depending on the product, the agencies’ jurisdictions may overlap or become very unclear.  To resolve this potential for jurisdictional overlap, USDA exempts foods containing less than certain specified quantities of poultry or poultry products from the PPIA (although they must still be inspected) so long as the producer does not represent the item as a poultry product (9 C.F.R. § 381.15).  The standards are:

  • 3 percent or less raw meat or less than 2 percent cooked meat; or
  • Less than 2 percent cooked poultry meat and less than 10 percent cooked poultry skins, giblet, or fat when measured separately; and less than 10 percent cooked poultry skins, giblets, fact and meat when measured in combination
  • Bouillon cubes, poultry broths, gravies, sauces, seasonings, and flavorings

USDA does not have a comparable regulation for meat, but has applied the same standards for several decades.  It matters which agency is exercising jurisdiction, because FDA requirements differ from FSIS requirements in some respects.  For example, the FSIS requires pre-market label approval for meat and poultry (9 C.F.R. §§ 317.4 (meat), 381.132 (poultry)), while the FDA does not.[6]

A producer can obtain pre-market approval by submitting a sketch for premarket approval (9 C.F.R. §§ 317.4, 381.132) or by using a pre-approved generic label (9 C.F.R. §§ 317.5, 381.133).  Generically approved labels cannot contain special claims, including quality claims, nutrient content or health claims, negative claims, geographical claims, or guarantees (Id.).  These restrictions limit the usefulness of general labels for most direct-to-consumer producers.

Labels must appear directly on the immediate packaging (9 C.F.R. §§ 317.1, 381.116), unless the packaging meets special circumstances. For instance, poultry packages destined for institutional customers can have the label on the outside package (rather than each immediate package) as long as the label states “for institutional use” and as long as the customer is not offering the unlabeled product in the container for retail sale (9 C.F.R. §§ 381.115).  FSIS also requires the principal display label to contain the name of the product, net quantity of contents, the official inspection legend, number of the official establishment, and, if necessary, a handling statement (9 C.F.R. §§ 317.2(d), 381.116(b)).  Information panels (generally defined as  the first surface to the right of  the principal display panel) may contain an ingredients statement, the name and address of the manufacturer or distributor, and nutrition labeling, if required (9 C.F.R. §§ 317.2(m), 381.116(c)).  Safe handling instructions may be placed anywhere on the label (Id.). Further regulations dictate product names, the prominence of the statement of identity, country of origin labeling, net quantity, and many other provisions.  USDA’s Guide to Federal Food Labeling Requirements for Meat and Poultry Products provides more detailed information on these labeling requirements.

Nutrition Content Labeling

In 2010, the USDA enacted regulations that require major cuts of meat and poultry, as well as ground meat and poultry products, to carry nutrition labels.  Beginning in 2012, the USDA will require producers of a final, packaged meat product to place nutrition content labels on 40 of the most popular meat and poultry products.  Under the rule, packages of ground meat and poultry will be required to carry a nutrition label.  Whole, raw cuts of meat will be required to carry a nutrition either on the package or on a sign at the point of consumer purchase.  The labels must carry the number of calories and the grams of total fat and saturated fat that the meat or poultry product contains.  In addition, any product that contains a “percentage lean” statement on its label (e.g., “80% lean”) must also list the corresponding fat percentage. 

The new rules include a number of exemptions relevant to direct farm producers.  First, the labeling rules exempt products intended for further processing, so long as these products bear no nutritional claims or nutrition information.  This means that, for example, a farmer who sells a side of beef to a butcher for processing into major cuts would not have to provide nutrition content information for the side of beef to the butcher (though the butcher would have to provide nutritional content information if it sold the cuts of meat to consumers).  Second, the rules exempt products that are not for sale to consumers, so long as these products do not bear nutrition claims or nutritional information. 

Third, ground or chopped meat or poultry products produced by small businesses do not have to comply with the new nutritional labeling requirements.  The USDA defines a “small business” for purposes of this exception as a facility that employs 500 or fewer people and produces no more than 100,000 pounds of meat per year.  This exception holds even if small producers use “percent fat” and “percent lean” labels on their ground meat and poultry products, so long as they include no other nutritional claims or nutritional information on their labels.  However, unlike for ground products, the nutritional labeling rules for major whole cuts of meat or poultry do NOT exempt small producers.  This means that direct farm businesses that sell cuts of meat or poultry to consumers – either on-premises or at a farmers’ market – must provide nutritional content information, either on a packaging label or on a placard at the point of sale.  However, this requirement should not be overly burdensome, because USDA plans to make point-of-purchase labeling materials available over the Internet, free of charge. 

Additionally, producers that fall outside of the small business exemption for ground meat or poultry will need to label their products with nutrition information.  The USDA has resources available to aid producers in calculating nutrition information for these products.  Specifically, the agency has a national nutrient database that contains nutrient values for ground beef, pork, chicken, and turkey products at specific percent fat levels.  The agency also has a nutrient value calculator for ground beef that will determine the precise nutrient content information for a specified level of fat or lean in a particular ground beef product. 

Whether the direct farm business itself must provide a label depends both on the product being produced and to whom the direct farm business is selling.  On the issue of who has the burden to comply with the new rules, USDA guidance states:

Normally, the packer is considered the producer because the packer produces the final product. For ground or chopped product, the producer of the final packaged product is required to provide nutrition labels on the product, unless an exemption applies. The producer of the final packaged product may be a Federal establishment or retail facility. Retailers are required to provide point-of-purchase materials or nutrition labels for major cuts, unless an exemption applies.

Therefore, with regard to ground meat, producers of the final packaged product of ground meat need to provide the labels.  So if a farmer sold a side of beef to a slaughterhouse, which ground it and packaged it for sale, then the slaughterhouse would have to provide nutrition info labeling to the retailer, because it is the "producer of the final packaged product."  If a farmer slaughtered his own poultry (permissible under certain circumstances in Illinois), turned it into ground chicken and sold it to a grocery store, the farmer is now the “producer of the final packaged product” and would therefore have to label it with nutrition information unless he met the requirements of the small business exception for ground products, mentioned above.  The same rule would apply if the farmer sold the chicken himself at a farmers’ market. 

With regard to whole cuts of meat or poultry, the law places the burden of labeling on the person who provides it for retail sale.  So if a farmer kills his own chickens, turns them into chicken breasts and sells them at a farmers’ market, then the farmer would be required to label the chicken breasts with nutrient content information—either on the package or on a sign at his stand.  The same would be true of cuts of meat processed by a slaughterhouse but sold directly to consumers by the farmer.  If the farmer sold the cuts of meat or poultry to a retail grocery store,  the retailer technically  has to provide the nutrition labels.  However, because retailers have the power to demand certain concessions from the person wanting to sell at that retailer, the retailer could, if it wanted, shift the burden of labeling to the producer as a condition of sale.  

Because these labeling rules vary in applicability, depending on the product and the buyer and seller, producers should consider contacting an attorney for additional guidance before commencing meat and poultry sale operations. For more information on the USDA’s new nutrient labeling requirements for meat and poultry, visit the FSIS nutrition labeling website.

Specific Terms Used in Meat and Poultry Labeling

USDA regulates many terms that direct producers may wish to use on their products. Their  website explains what USDA requires of specialty product labels.  As noted above, many of these labels require pre-approval and many involve inspections and certification fees.  Separate agency regulations outline the specific requirements for each claim.  Some, but not all, of the terms are

  • “Natural”: A product containing no artificial ingredient or added color and is only minimally processed.
  • “Organic”: The product was raised in compliance with USDA’s National Organics Program standards.
  • “Antibiotic free”: allowed on red meat and poultry if supported by sufficient documentation.
  • “Hormone free”: The claim “no hormones added” may be approved for labeling beef products if the producer provides sufficient documentation to the USDA showing that no hormones have been used in raising the cattle.  The claim “no hormones added” cannot be used on pork or poultry products unless it is followed by a statement that says “Federal regulations prohibit the use of hormones.” 
  • “Grass fed”: Grass and forage must be the feed for the lifetime of the animal, with the exception of milk consumed prior to weaning. The diet must be derived solely from forage consisting of grass (annual and perennial), forbs (e.g., legumes, Brassica), browse, or cereal grain crops in the vegetative (pre-grain) state.  Animals cannot be fed grain or grain byproducts and must have continuous access to pasture during the growing season.
  • “Free range”: allowed if producer can demonstrate to USDA that the poultry has had access to the outdoors.
  • “Fresh”:  Poultry may be labeled as “fresh” if its internal temperature has never been below 26° Fahrenheit.


Unless customers buy meat fresh - that is, directly from the slaughterhouse - meat products will most likely need to be stored in a refrigerated warehouse. Under the Illinois Refrigerated Warehouse Act (240 ILCS 35/1), refrigerated warehouses that store food for more than 30 days must obtain a license from IDOA (240 ILCS 35/2).  An application form is available on the Illinois Department of Agriculture’s website.  After submitting the written application, IDOA will inspect the warehouse to ensure it is sanitary and has proper equipment (240 ILCS 35/2). Once in operation, the Act authorizes IDOA to conduct ongoing inspections (240 ILCS 35/5). Operators must keep track of the dates of food deliveries (240 ILCS 35/7) and may not store food that is unfit for human consumption (240 ILCS 35/6).  If food has been in storage for more than 30 days, the retailer cannot advertise the food as fresh (240 ILCS 35/9).  Furthermore, producers, warehouses, and retailers may not keep food for a combined total of more than 24 months (240 ILCS 35/8).

B.  Specialty Products

Organic Meat

The USDA Agricultural Marketing Service administers organic production and labeling standards through the National Organic Program (NOP) (7 C.F.R. Part 205).  Generally, NOP requires that animals receive all organic feed and minimum access to the outdoors and prohibits use of hormones to promote growth or antibiotics for any reason.  To label the meat or poultry as organic, an accredited organization must certify the production and processing practices, in which case the product can bear the USDA Organic logo.  For more information on organic standards, see the “Organic Marketing” chapter of this Guide.   


Marketing meat as kosher is another way to distinguish products and access a niche market. “Kosher” is the term for foods that comply with Jewish dietary laws.  A simplified explanation of kosher is that it prohibits the consuming of certain animals, most notably pork and shellfish, and requires the meticulous separation of meat and dairy production and consumption.  The dietary laws are notoriously complex, and as a result, certified kosher products can sell at a premium price.

FSIS’s policy book requires rabbinical supervision of meat processing before meat can be sold as kosher. FSIS does not certify as to the kosher preparation of products, but instead accepts the statements and markings of the rabbinical authority.  Producers must provide the identity of the rabbinical authority upon request from the agency.  The FSIS does not maintain a listing or any guidance on who or what constitutes an acceptable rabbinical supervision. Certification requires meticulous standards of health for the animals when presented for slaughter and entails ritual cleaning of all equipment, ritual slaughter by a sochet in a humane fashion, removal of all blood, and restrictions on which parts can be sold as kosher.

Other marketing issues related to kosher foods are important to consider.  First, according to one kosher certification agency, the kosher poultry market is largely saturated.  Second, although some cattle cooperatives have successfully established kosher slaughterhouses in order to market directly to consumers, doing so requires consistently processing enough cattle to justify the cost of certification and operation.  There are kosher slaughterhouses in Illinois, but they largely process meat from industrial cattle yards and may be unwilling to separate meat for the direct farm business.  As of this writing (2010), given that the market for pasture fed and organic meats is not fully saturated, it may not be worth the cost and extra effort to move into the kosher niche market, even if there is some demand.


“Halal” is the term in Islam for something that is lawful or acceptable.  Although it most commonly refers to foods, it in fact means anything permitted under Islamic law.  Halal meat can only come from certain animals (pork is banned), must be raised according to certain standards (humanely and vegetarian, most notably) and slaughtered according to the ritual Zibaha (humane, swift cut to the throat of a healthy animal by a Muslim as he/she states a prayer over the animal, which must be facing Mecca).

Like kosher meat, halal meat commands a premium price.  Moreover, some consumers will seek out halal meat because of concerns over mad cow disease (bovine spongiform encephalopathy, BSE).  However, although there are similarities between halal and kosher meat, they are not interchangeable because the religions impose different requirements.  For instance, both Judaism and Islam require the meat to be slaughtered by someone of their religion.  And Islam prohibits the use of any alcohol to clean the carcass, whereas Judaism permits alcohol and kosher wine.

Federal policy on halal labeling is identical to the policy for kosher labeling.  The same policy book used for kosher foods requires handling according to Islamic law and oversight by an appropriate authority.  FSIS does not certify as to halal preparation of products, but rather accepts the statements and markings of the Islamic authority.  The producer must provide the identity of the Islamic authority upon request from agency official.  The FSIS does not maintain a listing or any guidance on who or what constitutes an acceptable Islamic organization for purposes of supervision.

Illinois has detailed requirements for processing and selling foods as halal.  The Halal Food Act (410 ILCS 637) and Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Act (Fraud Act) (8 IAC § 190) address the meaning of halal and establish standards for producing, advertising and selling halal foods.  “Halal” means “prepared under and maintained in strict compliance with the laws and customs of the Islamic religion including but not limited to those laws and customs of zabiha/zabeeha (slaughtered according to appropriate Islamic codes), and as expressed by reliable recognized Islamic entities and scholars” (410 ILCS 637/5; 815 ILCS 505/2LL(a); 8 IAC § 190.10).  A dealer (anyone who raises animals as halal or sells or distributes food represented as halal (815 ILCS 505/2LL(A)) must register with the Department of Agriculture before selling the animal or meat (815 ILCS 505/2LL(f); 8 IAC § 190.20).  Registration forms are available through IDOA’s  website.

Dealers must disclose the basis for their representation that their animals or food is halal (815 ILCS 505/2LL(b)).  The disclosure forms (8 IAC Section 190, appendixes A through E) ask for information on the animals’ feed (does not contain any animal by-products, such as 100% vegetarian feed, organic feed, or Amish feed), health (no diseases, raised without hormones), and absence of antibiotics in their systems at time of slaughter.  The forms require disclosure of contact information for the halal-certifying entity and disclosure of details about the slaughter method.

If the slaughterhouse processes pigs in the same facility (which many certifying entities prohibit completely), the slaughterhouse must take steps to ensure they are kept separate from the halal meat, such as using different equipment, cleaning (to a level acceptable to the certifying entity), slaughtering on a separate day, and storing and processing in separate rooms.  Halal rules require the slaughterer or processor to completely drain the carcass of its blood, prohibit cleaning or processing with alcohol or any other intoxicating food, and prohibit processing or contamination with any non-halal food.

Food sold or distributed as halal must have a halal label (8 IAC § 190.30).  If a dealer sells unpackaged non-halal food and unpackaged halal food, they must disclose to customers that they sell halal and non-halal foods (Id.).  Retailers and dealers must keep the IDOA disclosures on the premises where the food is sold and make them available to customers (8 IAC § 190.40).  Finally, dealers must keep records of all animals and foods sold for two years after sales, and maintain copies of disclosure forms for two years (8 IAC § 190.50).

Have you…?

  • Confirmed that you have the time, resources and facilities to provide the standard of care required for your animals? If they become ill, do you have the resources to address the disease? If they die, do you have a disposal plan?
  • Obtained any necessary permits for transporting your animals?
  • Chosen a slaughterhouse that meets your needs? Is it adequately licensed?
  • Do you need to have your labels approved? Have you done so?
  • Developed a marketing strategy that realistically assesses what you can produce and what demand is? If meat will need to be stored, do you have a plan for where, how long, and what it will cost you?
  • For niche markets, have you researched the market demand for your product and assessed your ability and willingness to undertake the work necessary to meet that demand?
  • Read the chapter on setting up a direct farm business and done research on any additional siting, construction or environmental permits you might need?

Key Contact Information

U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food Safety & Inspection Service

Illinois regional office: 630-620-7474

Illinois Department of Agriculture, Bureau of Meat & Poultry

Ph: 217-785-6684

[1] Prima facie means the court will presume the animal belongs to the owner of the brand, although the opposing party may enter evidence to try to prove the animal belongs to someone else.

[2] See 510 ILCS 50/19-24.1 for information on fines and penalties for non-compliance.

[3] "Exposed to" means an animal that has come in contact with another animal or an environment that is capable of transmitting a contagious, infectious or reportable disease.  An animal will no longer be considered "exposed to" when it is beyond the standard incubation time for the disease and has been tested negative for the specific disease or there is no evidence that the animal is contagious, except for animals exposed to Johne's disease. Animals originating from a herd where Johne's disease has been diagnosed only will be considered no longer "exposed to" with a negative test (8 IAC 85.5).

[4] Licensing and transport requirement for these entities are established in the beginning of the act at 225 ILCS 610/2 through 610/13).

[5] These units are still relatively uncommon, but USDA is stepping up efforts to disseminate information and increase their availability. For instance, in January and February 2010, the agency held a series of webinars to educate producers on special issues relating to mobile processing units.

[6] Point of purchase materials (such as signs displayed near the product and stickers on the shelves) do not require pre-approval, but if the point of purchase materials ship with the meat, they must have pre-market approval (Id.). FSIS also requires preapproval of labels or stickers applied at the point of purchase that make animal production claims (e.g. grass fed).

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