Updated: Feb 13
by: Dave Sorensen
I should probably start at the beginning. It was the summer of 2019, and I was outside walking my dog, and speaking with some of my neighbors. This was before the words pandemic and COVID crossed anyone’s thoughts. One of my neighbors mentioned to me, that a meat packaging facility was to be built somewhere near us. No one knew the specific location or details, but we began to discuss what would occur at such a facility and whether we should be concerned about it. We live in a quiet area of our suburb, Franklin, WI- a quintessential bedroom community, with retail and commercial businesses, but very limited industrial development. After a short discussion (after all, it was really hot out) we all went our separate ways, and promptly forgot about the topic, becoming consumed with our everyday lives.
Six months later the bottom dropped out. We went into a full blown pandemic, no vaccination existed, and everyone was worried with how things might play out, both with their health and the economy. We all went about creating our “new normal” and hoped for the best, while the news, the pandemic, and the shifting environment dominated both the overall landscape and most of our thoughts. It was at this time, roughly one year later from the start to my story, that I heard, what I initially assumed was idle gossip from another resident in my subdivision. I was told that the development we had discussed so many months previous, was in fact about to move forward, and it was actually going to be a giant slaughterhouse that would ship in 500 head of cattle per day to be slaughtered. I laughed. I literally laughed, and somewhat chided my neighbor and friend, for passing on such silly, unfounded gossip. Keep in mind, the area that we’re talking about consists solely of residential subdivisions, a country club, wetlands, and remaining undeveloped farmland.
Three days later, I ran into another friend at the grocery store, who told me the exact same story. Still unwilling to believe something like this could possibly be true, I phoned my Alderman. He was able to confirm for me, that essentially what was being said was correct, and pending a final Planning Commission meeting, and a successful vote by the Common Council, this project would be set to move forward. And thus my long odyssey began. My only goal, which I thought reasonable, was to prove putting a new, giant slaughterhouse, amid subdivisions and wetlands, was a poorly conceived idea, that at a minimum should be reconsidered, and should require a mountain of third party info to suggest how this could be anything short of disastrous for the surrounding community. I mean, come on, after all, it’s 2022 not 1905, and we’ve all read Upton Sinclair’s famous novel, “The Jungle.” Oddly, that story took place only 85 miles from here, and serves to prove that apparently we all do not learn lessons from history.
I glibly stated, on a number of occasions, how hard could it be to prove that “water is wet?” And like many before me, “pride goeth before the fall.” It’s a cliché for a reason people. I severely underestimated the difficulty of this task, the forces that would be aligned against this obvious truth, and how badly the deck would be stacked in favor of big business and bad government, all at the expense of individual constituents, who provide the actual basis for a thriving democracy. Although I still have not proved water is wet, I can say, after 18 months, $75k, and thousands of hours of hard work, we at Franklin Community Advocates are at least finally starting to make headway. And thus I’d like to formally begin telling the story, witch starts with what I like to refer to as “the big lie.”
How do you go about getting a slaughterhouse built next to subdivisions, in an area not zoned for industry? You start with a big lie. In this specific case, the initial big lie, had several different components to it. Our Mayor widely circulated the narrative, that a local business, which had been in town for over 50 years, and never had a single complaint made against them, wanted to expand their “meat processing” capacity (activities similar to what happens behind the butcher counter at your local grocery store) to a new, larger, state of the art facility. Wow, that sounds pretty innocuous. Now I’m going to ask you to bear with me, as I go over all the inaccuracies, and misinformation, in just this single statement. This will take a while.
The local business in town for 50 yrs, Strauss, sold their majority stake and controlling interest in their company to an out of state equity fund. So the owners are not only no longer local, they're an equity fund, where the only focus is to maximize shareholder profit. They have zero interest in our community, and for all we know, may not actually even now where we are on the map.
Supposedly, the current Strauss’ “meat processing” facility that packages veal, never has had a complaint made against it, which has been stated on the formal record (meeting transcripts), by our Mayor. Maybe he was suggesting they didn’t have a “single” complaint, because they have had many. In just the last several years, the following complaints/problems have been made public:
OSHA settlement for over a quarter of a million dollars for firing employees that simply complained about the lack of COVID protocols, which had been mandated by the state at this point - some of these employees had worked for Strauss for over10yrs
USDA violation which forced the facility to close for several days to correct problems with their inhumane handling of animals – this report, is literally nauseating to read in detail, so I’m going to bottom line it for you – the animals were improperly stunned, so they were still awake when cut with knives that had not been properly sharpened and were considered too dull
DNR violation for illegally impacting wetlands on their current property
sewerage district (MMSD) violations for discharging too high a level of fats into the sanitary sewer system
missing special use permits for slaughtering animals other than calves
unpermitted and disallowed structural modifications to their current building and parking lot
noise complaint from a neighbor regarding idling trucks at all hours of the night
This “meat processing” company, only wants to expand and update their existing operation. First of all, their present facility is a slaughterhouse. Live animals go in, and dead parts and waste come out. This particular game of semantics- and we’re going to go over many used throughout this whole debacle- is actually legal. Since no one wishes to have a “slaughterhouse” in their community, the industry moved to change the name from slaughterhouse, to meat harvesting (still too unappealing), to meat processing. However, the existing slaughterhouse is relatively small, and is only permitted to harvest veal. At one of the very first public meetings, the then president of Strauss Brands stated that they wished to change their business model, to one of slaughtering cattle (produces beef) from that of slaughtering calves (produces veal.) So, a new facility, 4 times the size of their existing facility, is actually required to implement an entirely different business model than the one they have conducted in Franklin for the past years. Cattle are 3 to 4 times the size of calves, and although you’re still bringing in live animals and killing them, the process of harvesting is totally different in terms of the end products produced, and the volume of waste created.
Clearly had the truth been packaged for public consumption, it would have been a far more difficult sale. It would have gone something like this.
An out of state private equity firm has purchased the controlling stake in a local business, and they would like to leverage that purchase into building an enormous, unregulated (as to the amount of animals they can ultimately kill on a daily basis) slaughterhouse in one of Franklin’s residential areas
They wish to do this, so that a developer can make money on rezoning and reselling land they’ve already purchased, and said equity firm, can then flip this investment for a huge profit by selling the new business to one of the 4 giant companies that control 85% of the beef market in the US currently
Yikes! The unvarnished truth is really ugly. Unfortunately, this is only the very sad tip, of a very sad, giant iceberg. It gets worse people. Stay tuned as we go over how things only go
down hill from here.