The following is a message from Alachua County Commission Chair Anna Prizzia:
It is often said that the last crop planted by a struggling farmer or rancher is houses in a development. Small and midsize farmers and ranchers are struggling to survive as they compete in global markets with little control over pricing.
However, with investment in building a local food economy, these farmers and ranchers can play a crucial role in providing quality food and food security for our residents. Additionally, protecting agricultural lands, particularly in western Alachua County, is essential to the County's overall land conservation strategy. These open areas in the west are critical to aquifer recharge. They also provide crucial buffers, wildlife corridors, and protect the rural character of our County.
In support of our farmers, ranchers, and our environment, the Alachua County Commission supports a local meat processing facility.
The economic impact of the meat industry on our region is enormous. Alachua County and its seven surrounding counties collectively represent three of Florida's top ten livestock-producing counties. The industry produces over $67 million in cattle, $566 thousand in hogs, and $1.1 million in sheep and goats.
Surveys and discussions with our local ranchers have identified meat processing as a critical bottleneck to their products' cost-effective and timely delivery. Because animals must be processed in a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) inspected facility to legally sell packaged red meat products to retail or wholesale outlets, better access is desperately needed to ensure the delivery of locally, sustainably, and humanely raised meat to our local and regional markets. When built, the USDA will have an inspector assigned to our facility.
We envision a partnership with private industry to operate the processing facility. The vision includes creating a home for collaboration with Santa Fe College and the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences for workforce training and research programs.
Almost every step of America's food supply chain has grown more concentrated in the past few decades. From manufacturers of agricultural inputs such as pesticides and equipment to commodity buyers and meat processors, growing corporate power has left farms and ranches vulnerable to exploitation at the hands of these massive businesses. Recent mergers and acquisitions continue the relentless trend of increasing corporate concentration across agricultural markets. For example, according to the White House, 82% of beef and 66% of pork processing are run by four firms. This consolidation gives the corporate middlemen the power to squeeze more profit from farmers and ranchers at the expense of their small businesses and consumers.
Many animals raised by farmers in our County are shipped off to Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO) and then processed in large slaughterhouses that often have dangerous working conditions and safety violations. The meat is then shipped back to our community and worldwide. The farmers receive very little money from this process, animals are treated as a commodity rather than living beings, and consumers have little to no understanding of the process. On top of this, the meat industry's carbon footprint and environmental impacts are ever-expanding.
Restoring local processing options to our local ranchers will help restore competition in our agricultural market and expand local market opportunities for our small and midsize ranchers. Processing options help protect their livelihoods, farmlands, and our local food security while ensuring that farmers receive a fair share of the total value of their labor. This facility will provide the highest standard of ethical and humane treatment for the animals and employees during processing and give local consumers the option of purchasing meat directly from our local producers. In addition, research collaborations will explore best practices for reducing the impacts of meat processing, such as composting waste, and exploring new products to increase local business development, such as dog treats or tallow-based products.
Perhaps the starkest and most powerful lesson in the need for this infrastructure came during Covid when many meat plants and supply chains had to slow down or stop their operations, some permanently. Consumers felt the impact of this directly at their grocery stores. Fortunately, small local farmers and processing facilities picked up some of the slack in the rapidly increasing demand for local meat. Unfortunately, processing could not meet the total demand, so many of our producers were frustrated and scared as they tried to figure out what to do with their animals.
With this effort, Alachua County is joining and supporting a major national initiative that challenges the massive, centralized meat processing operations by expanding local processing nationwide. Last year, the USDA announced several programs to help expand and upgrade meat processing facilities. In addition, USDA Rural Development offered $150 million through the Meat and Poultry Processing Expansion Program to fund startup and expansion activities in the meat and poultry processing sector. The USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture also provided another $40 million through existing workforce development programs to provide a pipeline of trained workers to meet the demand for both processors and increased independent processing capacity. And the Agricultural Marketing Service and USDA are investing in technical assistance and resources related to meat and poultry processing grants. We aim to access these federal dollars through matching local and state dollars.
There are legitimate concerns about how we raise animals, process them, and get meat products to consumers. With this facility, the County envisions a more humane, environmentally sound, and economically viable way to approach this challenge.
For more information, contact Alachua County Communications Director Mark Sexton at 352-264-6979 or email@example.com