Farmers, Legislators Beef About Slaughterhouse Plan

OSWEGO, NY – Where’s the beef? Probably not in Oswego County.

A representative of Bion Environmental Technologies Inc. told the County Legislature’s Economic Development and Planning Committee recently of a proposal that would make the county home to the nation’s largest livestock slaughterhouse.

The proposal, so far, has met with a lukewarm reception and plenty of questions from lawmakers as well as members of the local farming community.

“There has been no decision made about this project. There has been no site identified for this project,” according to L. Michael Treadwell, director of Operation Oswego County.

What the company wants to do is provide the educational opportunity to introduce the concept to Oswego County, he explained.

If the decision is made to move ahead with the project, with the support of the county and the communities, they’d like to do the project in Oswego County, he added.

Under the proposal, there would be more than 70,000 head of cattle housed somewhere in the county. There would be an estimated 400 jobs created at the abattoir as well as close to 200 “support positions.”

It would be a “closed loop” operation, meaning the cattle’s manure would be used for ethanol.

Local farmers are opposed to the plan, according to Eric Behling, president of the Oswego County Farm Bureau.

“I think there are a couple of things you need to grasp ahold of. This is a very sophisticated, very intricate system,” he said. “There are many questions that have to be answered before this goes forward.”

He said he’s talked with his Farm Bureau counterparts in St. Lawrence and other counties where this proposal has been made previously.

“There are many things that need to be answered before this thing goes another step,” he said. “For example, we get close to 200 inches of snow, so what happens to this plan if you can’t get through the roads (to transport livestock, feed etc.)? There are so many different things that could go wrong. This has not been tried on this scale before. This is huge.”

The number of cattle involved is like the population of the city of Oswego, plus the city of Fulton and a lot, lot more, he pointed out.

“My husband and I have had a dairy farm in the county for many years,” said Nancy Weber, a member of the Farm Bureau’s board. “In our county, we have a very unique and diversified type of agriculture. You don’t see this county replicated in other places. Our geography is such that it is not conducive to large farms. That’s evidenced by the fact that we have no CAFOs (Concentrated Automated Feeding Operation) in this county. Our dairy and our beef operations are generally less than 100 cows.”

The bureau is all for ag-economic development, she said. “But it needs to be appropriate for Oswego County,” she added.

This proposal won’t be a panacea for the local dairy farming community, she said.

“If you’re looking to enhance what is already here, there are many other ways of doing it,” she explained. “We shouldn’t be leaping into something that hasn’t been done before, has no track record anywhere.”

If the county does decide to consider the proposal, she hopes they form a task force to investigate it.

Legislator Barb Brown is concerned about the number of cattle and the health threat it poses.

Barry Leemann, chair of the Oswego County Legislature, said some constituents have asked him for more information about the project.

“I don’t know what to tell them,” he said. “I don’t have any more information than what was presented at the committee meeting.”

The chairman said he is considering forming a committee to look into the matter.

“We want to get some more information from them, basic stuff like where do the cows come from, but I haven’t heard anything,” he said.

He’d only create a team if there was enough interest in the proposal, he added.

Legislator Morris Sorbello, the chairman of the committee, agrees.

“There are a lot of unanswered questions,” he noted. “Where are the cows coming from, how are they going to be transported, is there a plan in place in case of an outbreak of disease? We need to know the basics of how this thing is going to operate.”

The panel would be comprised of some legislators, farmers, a vet, people with educational backgrounds and some just plain folks, the legislators noted.

“Very few legislators have expressed any interest in this at all. Some of them want this project stopped before it even gets started,” Leemann said. “It doesn’t look too good to us right now.”