We're glad farmers and the state Adirondack Park Agency sat down Tuesday, without bringing up old grievances, and talked productively about how a badly needed kind of business - a slaughterhouse - could be established in the Park.
As of last year, there were only three abattoirs left in the North Country - two in St. Lawrence County and one near Saratoga Springs - according to a special report by North Country Public Radio reporter David Sommerstein.
But the main obstacle is not the APA; it's the regulations and bureaucracy of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which have driven all but the larger food processing plants - dairies as well as slaughterhouses - out of business.
Fewer, bigger plants are easier to monitor for food safety, but they make mistakes, too, and more people are affected by each of their errors because of their greater volume and reach. When one storeroom of cantaloupes went funky in Colorado, people were infected with listeria nationwide. A more localized plant's problem could be handled regionally by state and county health officials.
Agriculture is a growing industry nationally, and small farms, especially, are a win-win for communities. The better small farms do, the healthier local residents can eat and the more comfortable they'll be psychologically, understanding where their food comes from. Also, small farms have more incentive to compete by showing off the natural quality of their food rather than just cranking out quantity.
Loosening the government reins to allow more, smaller plants would give more entrepreneurs a chance and keep more money and food closer to home. It also might employ more people overall, especially in rural areas where good jobs are harder to find.
But the federal government takes a different view. It not only enforces a system that protects large processing plants from small competitors; it also subsidizes factory farming directly. Imagine if the feds subsidized big beer companies like Anheuser-Busch and muscled microbreweries out of commission. It would be bad for beer drinkers everywhere. Yet that's what's happening to a lot of our food industry now.
It can and should change, for the benefit of the economy of rural areas like the North Country - as well as for everyone who eats.