When Industrial Slaughterhouses Are Proposed
by: Matt Krogh, RE Sources Posted on: September 08, 2013
Editor’s Note: The industrialization and corporatization of slaughterhouses has spread to many regions of the nation. Whatcom County, WA offers a case study look at how local politics respond.
Simon Davis-Cohen: Who are the stakeholders for and against the introduction of large slaughterhouses in Whatcom County?
Matt Krogh: Organic and local farmers, small business owners, healthcare providers and environmentalists have lined up against the proposal as currently written. Farmers are concerned that the proposal will threaten their access to clean water for irrigation and degrade prime farmland. Others are concerned that the proposal as currently drafted will have harmful effects on water quality throughout the county, including the water that our children and families drink. We hope to protect critical aquifer recharge areas, prime agricultural soils, wetlands and streams vital to fish and wildlife from industrial development.
Supporters of the upzone include large and corporate farming interests and those who believe limiting slaughterhouses is tantamount to over-regulation.
SDC: What species would be slaughtered and where would they be coming from?
MK: The ordinance would allow for the slaughtering of most livestock species. The Whatcom County Council has wisely opted to include limitations on where animals are coming from to prefer sources in Whatcom and Skagit counties. One of the big concerns of people in the local farming community is that despite the limitations imposed by Council, large volumes of cattle and hogs could be trucked in from all over the region to supply industrial-scale slaughterhouses.
SDC: What don’t we know about the potential slaughterhouses?
MK: The biggest problem is the lack of information about the realistic needs and capacity for proposed slaughterhouses. So far, the Council has not had the opportunity to look at the need for new slaughterhouses, the current available land, and best practices in other agricultural communities to prevent water quality risks or the loss of farmland. One of the things we’re asking for is a needs assessment that will provide this critical background to both the public and our decision-makers. Simply put, our elected officials still need much more information about the need for and impact of slaughterhouse to make an informed decision on this issue.
SDC: What problems do you see in the decision-making process? How could it be more democratic?
MK: One of the biggest problems is that the process has become highly ideologically charged. The environmental and local farming communities are not opposed to reasonably sized and properly sited local producers of locally raised meat products. We would love to work together with proponents to develop an informed, effective and well-intended solution that allows for more local processing of responsibly-raised livestock. Unfortunately, an ideologically motivated Planning Commission has turned what should be a responsible decision-making process into a litmus test for conservative purity, and by so doing, has turned a fairly reasonable proposal into something we must oppose to protect both water quality and the sustainability of our agricultural soil resources.
SDC: Would you support a countywide ban on industrial slaughterhouses in Whatcom? If so, how would you define “industrial slaughterhouse,” and what would be your legal argument in support of a ban, if it got challenged?
MK: In terms of whether we’d support a ban, it would depend on what is meant by “industrial slaughterhouses.” Many people in our community are opposed to any kind of animal slaughter on the basis of its environmental impact. In general, our health and our environment might benefit from eating less meat, though we must recognize that many people aren’t ready to completely eliminate meat from their diet.
In the meantime, we would appreciate and support a practical solution that allows for more local production and processing of responsibly raised meat. Currently, industrialized agriculture produces significant impacts on water quality, soil systems preservation, and climate change. We would like to find a reasonable middle ground that encourages more efficient and more diverse farming practices.
Currently, industrial-scale slaughterhouses (thousands of square feet of kill floor) are not permitted in the agricultural zone. The local land use power is the legal basis for this restriction. The Growth Management Act (or GMA, Chapter 36.70a RCW) requires counties in Washington state to “designate critical areas, agricultural lands, forest lands, and mineral resource lands, and adopt development regulations conserving these designated agricultural lands, forest lands, and mineral resource lands and protecting these designated critical areas,” (RCW 36.70a.040(3)(b)).
Protecting agricultural land from new industrial development is well within the legislative intent and authority of this provision. The right of communities to plan for growth and protect the public health and safety from the impacts of new development is well established in state and Constitutional law.
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