County Slaughterhouse Proposal Moves Closer to Enactment

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Fri, May 31, 2013, 7:20 pm  //  Wendy Harris

According to the latest County Council agenda update for the Tuesday, June 4, 2013 Council meeting, the Council will discuss the slaughterhouse rezone proposal, now being called the packinghouse proposal, at a special Council of the Whole meeting at 9:30 A.M. The proposal is planned for introduction that evening, which simply means that the public is put on notice that this is moving forward for consideration by the entire Council.  A public hearing is tentatively planned for June 18, after which this proposal could be approved.

 It is difficult to comprehend why the Council is moving forward with the proposal given the nature and the extent of the obstacles which must be affirmatively ignored to enact this into law. With strong opposition by a number of unrelated stakeholders, and support only from the most rabid members of the AG community (i.e, Council candidate Ben Elenbaas and his friends on the Whatcom County Planning Committee and the Tea Party), it is not clear how it is in any Council member’s political interest to pass this steaming pile of manure.  Among the relevant facts being overlooked:


  • We have adequate land available for slaughterhouse and processing plants in the County’s RIM (Rural Industrial Manufacturing) zone, located on Portal Way, which provides convenient access from I-5.  There are approximately 45 acres of land available for development in this RIM zone. By comparison, the Keizer Meats operation uses slightly more than 1/20 of an acre.  Additionally, slaughter houses and processing plants can be sited in our HII (Heavy Industrial) zone at Cherry Point. In other words, there is a more than ample supply of available land.


  • The County lacks a supply and demand analysis that indicates the need for a rezone of 88,000 acres of AG land for slaughter facilities and meat packing plants.


  • Slaughterhouses and processing plants use intensive amounts of water.  Whatcom County is facing a water shortage.  Farmers are among those most affected by water quantity issues, with an estimated 75% of farmers lacking adequate water rights to farm their land.  We should not be creating additional demand on our limited supply of water in the AG zone. We need this water to grow food.


  • Slaughterhouses and packing plants are an industrial use of land, and are known sources of water, soil and air quality degradation.  Slaughter and rendering create potential but serious threats to public health and safety.


  • The proposal does not prevent a slaughterhouse or packing plant from being built in critical areas, such as wetlands, or critical aquifer recharge areas, or along shorelines and streams. This could have significant impact on the local ground water supply, as well as sensitive environment resources.


  • The proposal falsely claims that a SEPA review was conducted.  The SEPA review consisted of an applicant, without knowledge of our AG land, answering virtually all questions regarding impacts with “NA.”  Worse, the SEPA reviewed an earlier version of the proposal which had lower impact. That version allowed slaughterhouses of up to 5,000 square feet.  This version allows meat packing plants of up to 30,000 square feet.


  • AG zoning is based on soil ratings.  Prime AG soil should not be wasted on non-farm uses that can be sited elsewhere. This proposal will result in a net reduction of farm land, and even worse, it will fragment our agricultural land, which is a threat to the viability of the County’s agricultural economy. 


  • The USDA supports the use of Mobile Slaughter Units (MSU) as a means of promoting small, local farmers. The County has failed to consider the use of MSU as an alternative to building slaughter facilities and meat processing plants. 


  • The County has failed to consider the long term financial viability of small slaughter facilities, particularly in light of the high costs to comply with state water quality permit requirements.  An economy of scale applicable in the slaughter industry creates a great deal of consolidation.  The proposal does not consider this, and with an allowable size of up to 30,000 square feet, does not protect us against consolidation.

If you care about our agricultural land, please ask the Whatcom County Council to do the following:


  • Deny outright the proposal to rezone AG land for slaughter and meat processing. It is simply a bad idea that does not support our local farmers, our local food, or the environment.


  • In the alternative, if the Council refuses to deny this proposal, ask that it be sent back to the Planning Commission for development of the following issues;
    • A supply and demand analysis that establishes and quantifies the  need for additional land to site slaughter houses and processing plants.  This should include a discussion of why the existing RIM and HII zones are not adequate.
    • The proposal should be revised so that a rezone reflects the actual land needed, if any, rather than all 88,000 acres of AG land.
    • If additional land is determined to be needed, it should be rezoned as RIM or HII, instead of amending the County code to allow industrial operations on farm land.  
    • Strict prohibition against building a slaughter facility or meat processing plant in critical areas, including aquifer recharge areas or wellhead protection zones, shorelines and streams.
    • Consideration of the use of MSU as an alternative to slaughterhouses and processing plants.

Tip Johnson  //  Sat, Jun 01, 2013, 4:18 pm

In addition, the Council has adopted for this measure a special meaning of ‘accessory use’ unique to the county code. Usually, an accessory use is secondary to the primary use of a specific property. In this case, slaughterhouses can be secondary to the primary use of ANY property in the entire agricultural zone. Their proposed 88,000 acre rezone is therefore an ideal first step in transforming rural Whatcom County into a haven for animal production and slaughter.

Tip Johnson  //  Sat, Jun 01, 2013, 4:32 pm

This County Council, the Planning staff and by implication the Administration are either abjectly ignorant of the principles of zoning, environmental protection and public health, or consciously intend to ignore them for some unstated aim.

Zoning is usually pretty simple:  Is there a shortage of land for the given use?  What areas are most suited the use? How much land is needed and what measures are required to mitigate the impacts?

The County’s steadfast refusal to follow normal procedure, conduct a competent environmental review or acknowledge well-documented analyses of the problems has grown into frustration and confusion.

Either they truly are “Demonically Possessed Slaughter Crazed Ideologues” categorically opposed to regulation, or there is some hidden reason for their unprecedented district-wide industrial rezone of our agricultural land.  The answer may lie in the recent Chinese bid to acquire Southfield Foods, America’s largest producer of pork.

Pork is a favorite meat in China, but recently many pigs have mysteriously died. Unknown thousands have been dumped and are literally choking rivers while even more are known to have entered the food supply through black markets.  The sheer numbers suggest an epidemic and the concurrent appearance of dead ducks and dogs underscores a grave concern that meat production in China is in trouble.

Even before a livestock epidemic, Chinese authorities have already had to crack down on farms because of water quality issues.  Each pig excretes as much as 6 or 7 adult humans.  Without regulation and treatment, the sheer quantities have been polluting water supplies and fouling popular tourist attractions.  It’s no different in the U.S., except for the regulations.  1 million hogs in Sioux City alone give off as much sewage as the Los Angeles and Atlanta metro areas combined.

Southfield Foods, the largest producer in a market of 3.1 million consumers is no match for the Chinese market of 1.3 billion mouths.  If China’s meat production falls, whether through epidemic or increased regulation, they will look to alternatives and increased capacity.

The Council, with their district-wide approach, removes any barrier to large-scale, industrial hog production in Whatcom County for the Chinese (or any other) market.  We are ideally located on the pacific rim and are established trading partners with China.  Further, the prospect lends substance to the claim that the GPT dock will not be a single purpose terminal.

Is this the Council’s vision for Whatcom County?  Plenty of local jobs in slaughterhouses and confined animal feeding operations for Chinese overlords, shipping pork and coal overseas while locally absorbing impacts the Council steadfastly ignores. 

Laurie Garrett, a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations and a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, believes the dead animals are the necessary antecedent for a new pandemic and that a few early human deaths support this conclusion (+ Link [you may need to register]).

China has every incentive to move their pork production to the U.S.  They can’t adequately regulate farms and public health.  Why not take the product home, leave the impacts behind and shift the risks and responsibilities to another country?  If a pandemic is inevitable, why not have it start somewhere else, giving time to prepare?

Unfortunately, this recent Council’s attitude toward regulation is even more lax than China’s has been traditionally.  The are willing to kick open the doors, but insist on systematically ignoring the potential consequences.  Will they fund adequate monitoring and enforcement?  Not likely!  They eschew bureaucracy and regulation equally.

Red and Black should be the campaign colors for this slate of property rights ideologues - red for slaughter and black for coal.  If their approach to one of the most notoriously offensive public health risks in human history is so cavalier, how do you think they will vote on coal? 

Pay attention to who votes Yes on slaughter.  They need to be removed from public office as soon as possible. Their first duty is to protect the public health, not to promote their propertarian fantasies of total deregulation.

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