July 2, 2010
The American Sheep Industry Association (ASI) this week received congressional support in its pursuit to have the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) include sheep processing facilities in its report showing locations across the United States where there is a lack of federally and state-inspected slaughterhouses for small livestock producers.
Sens. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) and Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), in a letter to Alfred Almanza, administrator of the Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS), reiterated the importance of understanding the challenges smaller producers face in gaining access to the marketplace. USDA released reports in June that showed high densities of small cattle, pork and chicken producers lacked access to federally and state-inspected processing facilities. The senators emphasized the need for this information to also be made available as it concerns lamb and sheep facilities.
"The study was an attempt to identify areas in the United States where small livestock and poultry producers are concentrated but may not have access to a nearby slaughter facility. This study provides valuable information on the availability of access to slaughter facilities and in turn, access to the marketplace. I want to thank the FSIS for examining the issue but ask them to take it further and look at the sheep and lamb industry," Johnson said.
"The omission of the sheep and lamb industry from this study needs to be corrected as soon as possible. I will continue working to ensure the Wyoming sheep and lamb industry have adequate access to slaughter facilities for their livestock," said Enzi.
Local economies are heavily reliant on agriculture producers and rural towns, commented Johnson and Enzi. For every 1,000 producers raising sheep, another 540 jobs are created. Moreover, an estimated $509 million in production at the producer level supports an additional $1.3 billion in economic activity. Production agriculture is the economic engine that drives rural communities and without viable family farms and ranches, small towns and main street businesses throughout the country would face significant financial hardships.
In conclusion, the senators stated that especially during these difficult economic times, and given the importance of small processing facilities for lamb producers, it is essential that the industry, as well as policymakers, have a better understanding of the degree to which these facilities are available.
"We thank the senators for their strong support on this request of the department," commented Glen Fisher (Texas), ASI president. "Given that one-third of the lambs produced in the United States are marketed through nontraditional routes, the importance of this information cannot be stressed enough."