While the territory’s abattoirs need major repairs and are about to be inspected by the federal government, the two slaughterhouses will not be closed, according to Agriculture Commissioner Louis Petersen.
The facilities are old and in need of repair, Petersen said during budget hearings the last week of August, adding that the abattoir division was "a serious concern with respect to staffing, safety and physical infrastructure."
He said the facilities need major repairs that have not been done due to budget limitations. At the time, he admitted the plants were “out of compliance" and could be shut down.
Petersen also said the U.S. Department of Agriculture was scheduled to visit in the next month, raising concerns that they may shut it down.
"However, we cannot afford such a closure since, by law, all meat sold or used for commercial purposes in the territory must be slaughtered or processed in our federally inspected plants," Petersen said during budget hearings.
In a statement Thursday, Petersen gave an update and clarification, saying the territory’s abattoir facilities will not be closed. He said that despite staffing and money shortages, Agriculture Department employees have taken all the necessary steps and precautions in preparation for the anticipated inspection by the USDA Food Safety Inspection Service team who will arrive later this month.
“A comprehensive action plan to address current operational deficiencies is being developed” by the Agriculture Department’s management team and the Office of the Governor, Petersen said. The plan will focus on multiple concerns including lighting, plumbing, ceiling weaknesses and equipment upgrades.
“The noted structural deficiencies of the abattoir plants on St. Thomas and St. Croix are due to the age of the slaughter houses. Despite their more than 40 years of operation, these facilities have never been closed and we remain committed to serving our farming clientele,” said Petersen, thanking the staff of the abattoir division for their diligence and dedication.
Messages left for Petersen Thursday afternoon for comment had not been returned as of 5 p.m. Thursday evening.