Push for new island abattoir

Written By miftah nugraha on Jumat, 05 April 2013 | 19.55

KING Island's beef producers are speaking to financial experts about setting up a new "green" abattoir on the island which will allow them to finally own the whole meat chain from paddock to plate.

The island's 140 beef farmers were rocked last year when the world's biggest meat producer JBS Swift closed its Currie abattoir leaving thousands of cattle stuck on the island with no other processing option.

Almost 100 workers also lost their jobs.

Ken Fleming, head of research at investment bank Willard Greening, went to King Island recently with Greens Senator Peter Whish-Wilson and Tasmanian Greens MHA Paul O'Halloran.

Mr Fleming said every producer he spoke to was willing to put their hand in their pockets to invest in a new independently owned abattoir.

"The farmers on the island produce great cattle but have been poor at owning their brand and garnering a premium from that," he said.

He said the proposal stacked up financially.

"People have been looking at what producers could do to re-establish an abattoir but the idea involved government funds," Mr Fleming said.

"We see it more as a commercial venture with private investors and the numbers appear to stack up."

A State Government feasibility study into re-establishing a meat plant on King Island as a locally run operation is expected to be finalised by the end of May.

But JBS Swift has already made it clear it will not sell or lease its old meat plant to new processors.

Under the JBS Swift system, 180 head of cattle a day were processed locally.

Producers received 40 per cent of the return and the abattoir pocketed 10 per cent.

The other 50 per cent was picked up at the retail end of the food chain.

Having to ship their cattle off the island since October last year has also hurt farmers both financially and in terms of good agricultural practice.

Mr Fleming said farmers acknowledged live shipment was not the best animal husbandry and saw off-shore processing as a short-term solution only.

He said a new meat plant could involve new technology such as bio-digesters, making fertiliser from blood and bone and even bio-fuel for tallow.

"It is easy to build an abattoir, a killing station, but this idea will add exclusivity of the King Island brand and is a marketable on the clean and green front," Mr Fleming said.

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