BRASHER FALLS — Tri-Town Packing has reopened its business for U.S. Department of Agriculture inspection on a small-scale basis, but the future remains uncertain.
“Right now we’re operating on a limited scale for folks that absolutely need it,” said Jeffrey A. Liberty, one of the owners of the plant.
In June, the USDA certification part of Tri-Town’s business closed over turmoil with inspectors and regulatory demands. The USDA inspection seal is required on meat intended for resale.
Tri-Town maintained its custom service, but the closure of the USDA end of its business meant that the retail market for north country producers that raise meat for restaurants, institutions and various others shrank and producers were left scrambling to find space in other USDA-certified plants.
Tri-Town is one of two USDA-certified plants in St. Lawrence County; the other is Ward Willard & Son in Heuvelton. Red Barn Meats, Croghan, has a USDA inspection service, as does a packing plant in Ticonderoga, which makes for a long trip for some producers to bring their animals.
On Wednesday, 8 O’clock Ranch, DeKalb Junction, emailed customers interested in market deliveries with an update.
“Tri-Town is not closed. They continue to take our animals to be USDA inspected but are unsure of how long this will continue. So, for now, we are waiting and praying for direction,” the message read. “Thank you to all of you who supported Tri-Town and us. The notes of encouragement were amazing and humbling. We truly live in a great community.”
Mr. Liberty said he and his father, Thomas J. Liberty, have decided not to say anything further about the situation. He had no time frame for when a final decision about the future of USDA inspection at the plant would be made.
A spokesman for the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service said the agency is doing its job.
“Tri-Town Packing Company has a history of violating food safety regulations and has failed to take adequate corrective action to ensure its products are safe,” the spokesman said in an email. “FSIS will continue to ensure unsafe product does not enter the food supply and that livestock are handled humanely. FSIS continues to offer guidance to the company on the corrective actions necessary to comply with federal food safety rules.”
Federal representatives, the governor’s office and the county Industrial Development Agency are involved, said county Legislator Anthony J. Arquiett, D-Helena
Mr. Arquiett said the company struggles with regulations that seem intended for larger operations.
“We’re just trying to help maintain a local business,” he said.
Matt Sonneborn, communications director for U.S. Rep. William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, said the congressman is working with USDA and Tri-Town on a solution but he had no other comment.