Strauss Brands has dropped plans to build a slaughterhouse at a business park in Milwaukee, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Protesters attended an Oct. 15 Common Council meeting to ask members to delay a vote on the project, citing concerns about odors, pollution, worker safety and insufficient public involvement. After the meeting, an alderman representing the district where the plant would be located withdrew support for the project based on community concerns.
The company, which processes beef, lamb and veal, had planned to relocate operations from the south Milwaukee suburb of Franklin to a new $60 million, 170,000-square-foot facility in the Century City Business Park on the north side, bringing an initial 250 jobs with it, the newspaper reported.
CEO Randy Strauss told the Journal Sentinel the company had hoped the move would inspire other businesses to follow suit. "We honor and respect the opinions of the community and don’t want to make our home in a place where our presence would not be seen as a benefit. Therefore, we are no longer pursuing relocation to Century City," he said. The company now plans to expand elsewhere in the Franklin area.
Strauss Brands, a family-owned company acquired in August by private equity firm Insight Equity Holdings, sought to expand its footprint. It would have benefited by the city's agreement to sell the 20-acre site and an additional five acres for $1, while the city could have realized millions in property tax revenue from the project.
However, residents who opposed the project raised questions about potential pollution and problems with odors and worker safety, as well as concerns about animal welfare. In addition to that, an alderman on the board said the transparency and land use issues are legitimate concerns.
Strauss focuses on ethically raised meat, grass-fed and organic beef and humanely raised veal and lamb for the retail and food service markets. Rocky Marcoux, Milwaukee's city development commissioner, told the Journal Sentinel the company is "an industry leader in humane, ethical treatment of animals."
But such on-trend positioning doesn't mean a community will accept a meat processor's construction plans. Tyson Foods found this out in 2017 after announcing plans to build a $320 million poultry processing plant in eastern Kansas. Despite the fact the new plant would be part of the company's No Antibiotics Ever retail chicken line and employ about 1,600 people, local opposition prompted Tyson to move the plant to a more welcoming environment in Tennessee.
Concerns about how animals destined for human consumption are treated has raised consciousness about the siting of slaughterhouses in the U.S. — and some people are willing to be arrested for calling attention to it.
According to recent USDA data, there are 1,165 slaughter facilities in U.S., with many of them located in the Midwest and South. The top cattle-processing state is Nebraska. Georgia slaughters the most chickens. Iowa processes the majority of hogs. The most turkeys are slaughtered in Minnesota, the North American Meat Institute reported.
While few people would voluntarily live in the vicinity of a slaughterhouse, some in the meat industry have instituted procedures to make their operations less objectionable. The Strauss plant featured a refrigerated, fully enclosed production facility, and the company said nightly cleaning would help to keep odors to minimum. Also, waste would be treated on-site before going to the sewer system.
There will likely be protests cropping up whenever prospective slaughter facilities are planned near urban areas — even if good-paying jobs come along with them. For processors, the best option might be to practice as much transparency as possible before, during and after such a plant is built to make sure the public knows what is on the table, and feels fully informed and involved.