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Editorial | Island Voices

State purchase of slaughterhouse key to food security


There is much talk about how our state must become less reliant on imported foods. If Hawaii is truly serious about increasing our food security, then the proposal to preserve the slaughterhouse on Oahu is critical.

The editorial, "Slaughterhouse none of state’s business" (Star-Advertiser, April 19), fails to convey and understand the serious impacts for the future of Hawaii agriculture if the facility is shut down. It also fails to acknowledge that the state has an important responsibility in supporting agricultural development in the movement to increase our food security.

Regarding Senate Bill 249, we must clarify that of the $1.6 million proposed, $1 million will go to installing an energy-saving photovoltaic system that will significantly reduce operating costs for the facility and increase its future viability. The $600,000 is proposed to purchase the slaughterhouse and its equipment, but nearly all of the funds will be used to repay the Agricultural Loan Program revolving fund. These funds are essential for helping finance other farming and agricultural businesses.

The state would not run the facility, but lease it to a new entity that would manage the operations. This is the same type of arrangement under which the Molokai and the Hamakua slaughterhouses operate.

While the slaughterhouse operations have struggled in past years due to the loss of large dairy farms that provided culled cows, there is an obvious growing market for locally raised beef. There are existing cattle operations on Oahu that are in the midst of expanding. Several new dairy and livestock enterprises that would depend on the facility are in the planning stages for Oahu. Even neighbor island ranchers are beginning to see product quality and economic advantages to bringing their cattle to Oahu. Expansion of the industry depends on the continued operations of the Oahu slaughterhouse.

If we allow the slaughterhouse to become insolvent, it will cost an estimated $9 million or more to construct again. There will be virtually no fresh pork in Oahu markets and our reliance on imported foods will continue to increase. Even if neighbor island facilities could handle the added load, it will increase consumer prices for pork due to additional transportation costs, as well as decrease product freshness and shelf life. On the surface, some may see it a "bailout," but there are much deeper ramifications for the state and our ag industries if this bill fails.

If any department understands the impact of the budget crisis, it is the Hawaii Department of Agriculture. HDOA was cut by almost a third and we lost many employees who were dedicated to supporting agriculture in Hawaii. We would not support this bill at this time if we had any doubt that the Oahu slaughterhouse is vital to the future of Hawaii’s agricultural industries and increasing our food security.

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