Even without blood tests, fair promises swine will be fine for buyers

mjohnson@bradenton.comJanuary 15, 2014 

PALMETTO -- Citing cost savings for swine exhibitors and a lack of local slaughterhouses, the Manatee County Fair Association is narrowing options for sellers and purchasers at its annual market show and sale this week.

On Saturday, sellers of the 150 swine for sale at the fair will be required to have their animals slaughtered at one of three federally inspected slaughterhouses, only one of which is in Manatee County.

In addition, the fair will no longer blood test swine for key diseases, which prevents buyers or sellers from taking an animal home for breeding purposes.

The rule change is intended to save youth 4H

and Future Farmers of America members time and money before the show. It is also an acknowledgement of the decline of the county's slaughterhouse industry.

"Even the veterinarians didn't want to do blood testing because it was a hassle," said Manatee County Fair Manager Dan West. "Plus, there are no local-inspected meat establishments."

West said the rule change should have no effect on buyers' confidence. Blood tests done on swine in past years were intended to screen for pseudo rabies and brucellosis, a disease that can be contracted by eating uncooked meat. Swine sent to inspected slaughterhouses will be checked for disease at the time of slaughter.

"We want buyers to have safe meat in a safe environment," West said.

West said the Manatee County Fair was one of few fairs across the state still doing blood testing through last year.

Designated slaughterhouses are Fussell's Meats in Arcadia, Nettles Sausage in Lake City, and the Manatee County Sheriff's LIFE meat facility at Port Manatee. Sellers at the fair sale pay for slaughtering and meat processing. Finished meat and carcasses are delivered to buyers at the fairgrounds.

One local meat processor, Palmetto Meat Shop, is planning to start its own inspected slaughtering operation in time for next year's fair. Shop owner Clint Hrabal said livestock buyers at the fair want to get their animals processed locally.

"I want to do it so all our animals at the fair don't have to go out of town," he said.

The sheriff's facility will slaughter up to 15 of the swine from this year's fair.

Peter Voley, a leader with the 4H Cream of the Crop swine club, is pleased to see the swine show rule change. Blood testing required club members to drive their swine to his home each year in late December for a blood draw. While the veterinarian who did the draw charged only about $10 for the testing, Voley said the stress of transport caused some swine to stop eating or suffer other stress factors just weeks before the show and sale.

"It was a pain," he said. "It's one less thing the kids have to pay for."

Voley said show participants typically pay about $200 for each of the animals they raise. He brings swine from Georgia for his club members and sells them at cost for about $150. By the time they sell at the fair, the animals are 6 months old or younger.

Swine sold last year went for more than $3 a pound. West said he hopes for good prices this year, even as swine sellers have brought a record number of animals to the fair.

Other than the sheriff's facility, Manatee County has no inspected slaughtering operations. Voley said the last privately owned, local slaughterer that fit the bill, Gerald Groover Meats in Duette, shut its doors several years ago.

Most swine that sell at the show do undergo at least two health checks before the sale. John Court, District 5 supervisor for the state's Division of Animal Industry, said swine raised by show participants generally comes from out of state. To enter the state, the animals must have a certificate of veterinary inspection.

District 5 also will have a representative at the fair to visually inspect all swine before they go on display or sale.

Participants in the show must be in high school or younger. Their animals will vie for champion and reserve champion honors at Thursday's show at Kendrick Auditorium.

The show is classed as a "market" show and sale, which means the animals must go to the slaughterhouse after they are purchased.

Matt M. Johnson, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7027, or on Twitter @MattAtBradenton.

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