A coalition of Alaska farmers and meat processors asked the state Board of Agriculture and Conservation to consider a proposal that would move a state-run slaughterhouse to the private sector.
At the board's meeting in Palmer Thursday, the group of meat industry stakeholders -- called Denali Meat Co. -- asked the board to issue a request for proposals, a step that would let private sector companies compete for a lease to operate Mt. McKinley Meat & Sausage Plant.
Nate Burris, president of the Denali Meat and owner of Mat Valley Meats, said the proposal is the first step toward moving the plant out of state ownership.
Southcentral Alaska farmers have spent the last year considering options for the state-operated plant, which is set to close in at the end of the state fiscal year in June.
The plant is the only USDA-certified slaughter facility in Southcentral Alaska. Without USDA certification, producers cannot sell meat to restaurants and grocery stores.
The state has operated the plant since 1986, when the original owner defaulted on its loan. A number of attempts to move the facility to private ownership over the last 30 years have all failed.
Burris said a lot has changed since the last time private owners operated the facility. He said those owners were mostly trying to compete with large out-of-state producers to get meat into grocery stores. Now, there's more public interest in eating local, with many wanting to know where their meat comes from and less interest in eating factory-farmed meat.
"We believe at this point, that honoring a farmer's need to make a living and get a fair price for livestock is important," he said. "And the market will bear that now."
Burris said Denali Meat Co. might be newly formed -- it registered for a business license with the state in January -- but it's comprised of a broad range of meat industry stakeholders. Burris said all are interested in making sure the Alaska industry continues long term. According to Alaska Public Offices Commission records, the group has even hired a lobbyist to advocate on the company's behalf in Juneau.
The Agriculture Board will hear public comment on the proposal March 31 in Palmer, and then later consider whether or not to put out the RFP.