SooToday Article: Local slaughterhouse on its last legs?

By Carol Martin
Monday, March 30, 2009

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Northern Quality Meats, the district of Algoma’s only abattoir, is in big trouble, say several members of its board of directors.

The Desbarats slaughterhouse has been in operation for eight years.

If the plant does go belly-up, no one in this area is going to get local meat and more than a few area meat producers are going to be out of business, warns Russ Christianson, a former general manager of the Ontario Federation of Food Co-ops and Clubs.

Karen Shaule, chair of the Algoma Federation of Agriculture, says it would take the cost of the business plus at least $100,000 in additional upgrades to be re-open Northern Quality Meats if it does close its doors.

But Shaule doesn’t think it would be very likely that the abbatoir could rise again if it goes bankrupt.

Christianson says the pending loss of our area abattoir is the greatest and most imminent threat to local food security and to the formation of healthy, thriving agricultural co-operatives.

“We had a group of farmers come together and throw money in a pot,” said Alf Roberts, a farmer from Sylvan Valley and a member of the abattoir’s board of directors.

“It was getting to be fall time and we had a bunch of farmers that needed animals killed,” he told the two dozen or so people gathered last week at a workshop at Algoma University.

“We had eight out of ten of our ducks in a row, but the ones we were missing were the $30,000 to $40,000 ones for the value-added processes,” Roberts said. “These never did show up. So we’ve been running by the skin of our teeth for the past eight years.”

Another Algoma farmer, Ken MacLeod said that, if there was a sound business plan and someone who could properly manage the plant and market the meat, there are a few area farmers who would buy it tomorrow.

Roberts said there will be a meeting for people with an interest in Northern Quality Meats’ success on April 2 and the plan is to ask all the farmers who use the plant to pitch in another $100 each.

“That will keep us going for the next few months,” Roberts said. “Long enough to work with Algoma University to create a good, solid business and recovery plan for it.”

A steering committee of people in attendance at last week’s workshop was formed with revitalization of Northern Quality Meats its first self-appointed task.

At least three board members from the abattoir were at the workshop seeking ways to save the business.

They sat at the table with steering committee members to begin the work of maintaining and revitalizing the company.