This Tuesday, September 25, 2012, the County Council will hold a public hearing on a proposal to allow slaughterhouses on agricultural land. This is a zoning amendment that must be consistent with the County Comprehensive Plan and the Growth Management Act (GMA). Here is the link for the agenda bill. http://www.co.whatcom.wa.us/council/0agendabills/ab2012-300.pdf.
The Planning Department drafted a proposal that would allow slaughter facilities on agricultural land as a conditional use if it is supplemental to dairy and livestock operations (i.e., an accessory use), limited to no more than 10 employees, and constructed to maximize the agricultural use of the remaining area. However, the Planning Commission revised the Staff’s proposal to remove limitations on size and operations of slaughterhouses, allowing slaughterhouses as a primary and permitted use for 10 or fewer employees and a conditional use for over 10 employees.
The Planning Department is advising the County Council that, pursuant to advice from the County Prosecutor’s Office, the revised proposal may not comply with the Growth Management Act. One of the GMA’s goals is to encourage conservation of productive agricultural land and discourage incompatible uses. Development regulations must prevent conversion of land for a nonresource use where the land is being used for primary agricultural production. RCW 36.70A.020(8); WAC 365-196-815(1)(b).
The Planning Department does not have specific recommendations for Council. For guidance on how to restructure the zoning amendment, Planning suggests that Council look at some of the limitations contained in its orginal slaughterhouse proposal. I hope that the the Planning Department realizes that even its initial proposal went to far. I am opposed to the slaughterhouse proposal (both versions) for a number of reasons, although the Planning Commission version is far worse.
Slaughterhouses are an industrial use that reduce the amount of land available for farming. Industrial uses should be restricted to industrial zoning. The County is already short of its goal to preserve 100,000 acres of farm land, and this is a movement in the wrong direction. Slaughterhouses increase impervious surfaces associated with stormwater run-off and water quality degradation. They fragment agricultural land, contrary to County policy and recent agricultural lot reconsolidation efforts. Fragmentation of farm land reduces the viability of our agricultural industry. We can not provide greater protection for our agricultural land if we are allowing land use activities that contradict this alleged goal.
Most slaughter occurs at large, centralized facilities owned by a few multi-national corporations, which, increasingly, are moving urban operations to rural communities. Negative impacts to rural communities after relocation of a large slaughterhouse are well-documented. Large slaughterhouses squeeze local farmers out of business. The Planning Commission proposal, which removes limitation on slaughterhouse size and operation, would allow large slaughterhouses to relocate to Whatcom County.
Slaughterhouses are likely to invite conflict with rural residential homeowners, who may first become mobilized right before or after a slaughterhouse is located nearby. Slaughterhouses frequently mistreat animals in violation of the federal Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, with little or no repercussion. Local communities have no power to ensure humane treatment of slaughter animals. The Planning Commission failed to consider the alternative option of mobile slaughter units, which are supported by the USDA as a way to provide greater income to rural farmers.
I have discussed my concerns in greater detail in the September issue of the Whatcom Watch. The link for this article is found here. https://docs.google.com/open?id=0BzTIJpNycQV8emU2TW9ORlJod0k.
If slaughterhouses are to be located on agricultural land, restrictions on the size and operations of the facility provide the best protection for the animals, the land and the people of Whatcom County. Please tell the County Council that you do not support the Planning Commission proposal. Better yet, tell them that you do not want slaughterhouses at all. firstname.lastname@example.org.