Slaughterhouse purchase faces final House vote

KHON - Apr 12, 2011

HONOLULU- After sailing through the state Senate since being introduced in late January, a plan that would allow the state to purchase Oahu’s only slaughterhouse for $1.6 million faces a final vote on the House floor Tuesday morning. Supporters of SB249 say buying the slaughterhouse at Campbell Industrial Park with taxpayer dollars will ensure the viability of the livestock industry for years to come.“If we really want to protect our local agriculture in regards to livestock, then we have to ensure that this slaughterhouse is going to be viable,” said state Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz, one of ten democratic lawmakers who introduced the measure in the Senate.However critics of the plan say the state should stay clear of unnecessary expenditures as Hawaii grapples with a $1.3 billion deficit in the current two year budget cycle. Sen. Mike Gabbard, a West Oahu democrat, was the only lawmaker in the Senate to vote against the proposed purchase of the slaughterhouse. “There’s no money,” said Gabbard. “It's just not a good way to spend the people's money.”The slaughterhouse is operated by Hawaii Livestock Cooperative and sits on 6.5 acres of state owned land on Olai Street. According to Gabbard, the non-profit group of local farmers has received $4.6 million in state and federal subsidies since 2003. “Once the state buys this thing it's going to be a black hole,” he said. “Millions more dollars are going to be pumped into this thing, so it just doesn't make sense.”Still, supporters of the purchase say losing Oahu’s only USDA regulated slaughterhouse would send shockwaves through the local livestock industry. “If you don't do this and it folds then you're left in a situation where you’re gonna leave the livestock people, the hog growers and the cattle guys, with no place to slaughter their animals,” said Myrone Murakami, Hawaii Farm Bureau President.Currently most of the cattle raised in Hawaii are shipped to the mainland for final grazing and eventual slaughter. The largest cattle operation on Oahu is the North Shore Cattle Company, which operates a 1,000 acre ranch specializing in grass fed beef. Dela Cruz says once the state finalizes its purchase of the slaughterhouse at Campbell Industrial Park, another operator could be brought in to help increase output and efficiency. Right now the facility is used primarily to slaughter hogs.“Once the state takes it back then we can reexamine the situation and send out another request for proposal and get an operator that's going to truly do what we need for them to do in regards to accepting cattle, hog and other livestock,” said Dela Cruz. Murakami believes a state owned slaughterhouse would act as an insurance policy if privately run facilities on the neighbor islands ever close their doors.“It's a lot more than just the cost of the operation of the slaughterhouse,” he told Khon2. “There are compounding effects that ripple through the economy in the agriculture community.” Murakmi adds that without a slaughterhouse on Oahu, the hot hog market would also be threatened. Roughly 900 head of “fresh” pork are brought to market every month, most of it sold in Honolulu’s Chinatown. If SB249 passes the full House on Tuesday, the measure would head to conference committee for final passage.