AR-News: Prime Cuts--Slaughterhouse eying bison next
wolfcrest at hotmail.com
Mon Jan 12 19:53:54 EST 2004
BY SHAWN WHITE WOLF - IR Staff Writer - 01/11/04
While the discovery of mad cow disease in the United States lowered the
selling price of beef at the Little Rockies Meat Packing Plant in Malta, a
recent winter blast across the Hi-Line has added to the worries of the
plant's general manager.
"A local rancher and the tribe were not able to bring their animals in
because of snow packed roads," said Leonard Mingneaux, the plant's general
Mingneaux has not responded to either concern lightly.
Prior to the mad cow disease being found in a dairy cow in Washington state,
the Fort Belknap Little Rockies Meat Packing plant instituted e-coli testing
and USDA inspections of all their products.
"We do not accept downer cattle for custom processing or for purchase by
this plant," said Mingneaux. "We do not accept live cattle or boxed beef
cattle from Canada."
A downer or sick cow is a cow that cannot walk or has been ill.
The Fort Belknap tribal government purchased the former Big Sky Beef
building outside of Malta in a foreclosure sale in 2001.
In August, the facility became the only tribally-owned meat packing plant in
America to have a U.S. Department of Agriculture inspector on site.
Mingneaux estimated that the plant can slaughter and process 120 cows or
bison. However, with the current winter conditions, that number will be
Currently there are only two tribally-owned meat packing plants in the U.S.
The other plant is owned by the Cheyenne River Lakota Nation in South
Dakota, which only recently acquired an on-site federal inspector.
The advantage of having a federal inspector on site is that lets the tribe
sell its products worldwide.
Richard Miller, USDA's on-site inspector, said no slaughter or processing of
meat is done without his permission.
The cost to acquire and renovate the former Big Sky Beef building is
estimated to be over $100,000 so far, Mingneaux said last week.
However, that figure is a low estimate, he said, and the exact costs to date
won't be known until the end-of-the-year bookkeeping is completed.
While sales seem to have taken off slowly, the plant is gaining a reputation
for quality and service.
Sue Gregori, restaurant manager of the Chinook Inn approximately 60 miles
west of Malta said she has been satisfied with the quality and service of
"We've ordered for about three weeks, and we plan on staying with them,"
Gregori said. "Their products are excellent and the prices are very
LRMP has initiated numerous steps in the process of slaughtering its animals
that ensure a safe product for customers, said Mingneaux.
For example, an animal is inspected from the time it arrives at the plant to
being slaughtered, processed and packaged.
If any concern arises along the process, the animal is inspected, disposed
of immediately and the entire area is thoroughly cleaned, he said.
Mingneaux said he was concerned about cross-contamination during
slaughtering and processing meat, but said he has taken steps to avoid the
chance of any occurance.
In addition, a metal detector will be on site within the next month to avoid
any chance of something being placed inside their products.
The metal detector is required by the federal government in order to obtain
contracts with public institutions.
The Fort Belknap tribes, working with a South Dakota-based InterTribal Bison
Cooperative, hope to be able to market bison as an alternative to beef.
"Our approach is to look at the health of the bison, considering bison is a
grass-fed natural product, not contaminated," said Fred DuBray, executive
director of the ITBC.
ITBC is working with 54 tribes to develop a marketing strategy to sell bison
in the United States, as well as in other countries.
DuBray said bison will be quite marketable because of its low fat content
and richness in vitamins and iron.
In addition, the ITBC and the Indian Agricultural Council, went on a
marketing trip in November to Japan, which is the top importer of American
beef, to discuss exporting bison from the tribally-owned operations.
In 2003, the IAC traveled to Canada, Tokyo, London and Paris, and have
future plans to travel to Asia and other parts of Europe.
"This is an ongoing relationship. We are working with Fort Belknap to help
them process bison that will meet our needs as well as their needs," said
Reporter Shawn White Wolf can be reached at 447-4028 or
shawn.whitewolf at helenair.
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