New Milford considers proposal to permit slaughterhouses

NEW MILFORD — The Zoning Commission is scheduled to hear public comment this month on a proposal to permit commercial slaughterhouses in town.

The Farmland and Forest Preservation Committee, an appointed panel, is seeking an amendment that will strike language forbidding commercial slaughterhouses from the definition of “farm” in the zoning code and define a slaughterhouse as a “facility located on a farm for slaughtering and/or processing of animals,” including wild game, livestock and poultry.

The amendment also would require that slaughterhouses be located on lots 10 acres or larger and positioned more than 200 feet from neighboring homes, and comply with U.S. Department of Agriculture standards. The proposed amendment will go to public comment on Feb. 27.

Nick Pouder, a sheep farmer and a member of the farmland committee, said New Milford and surrounding towns are home to hundreds of small farms, and many have to transport their animals long distances to slaughter. He said he drives his own animals to Bristol.

In a memo to the Zoning Board, Town Planner Kathy Castagnetta said some local farmers drive up to 90 minutes away to take livestock to slaughter. The stress of that travel, coupled with the stress of the slaughterhouse, affects the quality of the meat.

“Stressful conditions cause animals to send stress hormones to muscles, which in turn toughen meat and result in lower-quality product,” Castagnetta wrote. “There is a real need for local USDA-approved slaughter facilities that can serve local farmers.”

Margery Feldberg, who raises cattle commercially on De Hoek Farm on Hine Road, built a USDA-approved facility on her property three years ago, but she cannot slaughter anyone’s animals but her own.

She agreed that travel stress undoes the work farmers do to feed and care for the animals.

“A lot of work is undermined by a long trip to a distant slaughterhouse,” she said. “It’s not as humane, nor does it yield the optimal product.”

Owing to the expense of building slaughterhouses that meet USDA standards and the strict zoning rules proposed, the farmland group said it doesn’t anticipate a “proliferation” of slaughterhouses. “The market is going to limit how many of these we are going to see,” Pouder said.