By IVA MAURIN
CAPITOL HILL, Saipan — In a pivotal move to revitalize the cattle industry in the Northern Mariana Islands, Tinian will very soon be operating its own U.S. Department of Agriculture certified slaughterhouse.
Located next to the Department of Land and Natural Resources in San Jose, Tinian’s only slaughterhouse, Tinian Kualidat Meat Processing Center, sits on a fenced-in, controlled-entry environment of more than 1,000 square feet, complete with pens, a chiller, and a raceway for cattle, with the actual slaughterhouse unit measuring roughly about 36 feet long, and no more than 12 feet in width.
Currently, there is an inventory of 1,500 heads of cattle on the island, all 100% grass-fed, free-range, and raised without the use of any antibiotics or food supplements.
More than a thousand hectares is dedicated to cattle ranching in Tinian, with close to 40 individual family-run ranches, all of whom are members of the Tinian Cattlemen’s Association, a non-profit organization established a decade ago, where ranchers network and share ideas to improve the local cattle industry.
Bringing in and fully operating a USDA-certified slaughterhouse in Tinian is the brainchild of the association. The initial investment for the slaughter unit is more than $400,000.
Jose Dela Cruz, former senator and president of the TCA told the Journal the objective behind bringing in the USDA certification is to make local beef accessible to all — at least for now to Tinian residents — and then hopefully, part of Saipan.
“The whole idea behind the slaughterhouse facility is to make the product available to our general public, because not many people can afford to buy a whole cow and store it in their house for personal consumption. The best bet is to make it readily available at the stores,” Dela Cruz said.
Tinian’s cattle industry flourished in the 1970s. Dela Cruz noted that while there were local ranchers at that time, it was the late Kenneth T. Jones Jr., chairman and president of Jones and Guerrero Co. Inc. who enhanced and turned it into a profitable industry, through his Micronesian Development Co.
At that time, the island exported an average of about 25 heads of slaughtered cattle to Guam and Saipan every other week, to Jones’s J&G Pay-Less Market stores, Dela Cruz said.
“We’re not there yet… but we want to start,” he said, acknowledging that Tinian, at this point, cannot yet accommodate the demand for beef of the entire chain of islands in the Marianas.
“We want to start slow, and we’re mindful that we have to be sustainable at the same time. Our goal is to start here at home. The goal is to bring the product to the local stores and restaurants, first in Tinian… if production goes higher, then we might reach further,” he said.
TCA received the conditional certification for the slaughterhouse several weeks prior to the interview with the Journal, but there are a few minor grey areas that need to be completed.
“The slaughterhouse that we have here is USDA-certified that we purchased out of Washington State. It is a modular unit that is pretty much complete, fabricated in the U..S mainland and brought into Tinian, and what we did is just attached the cages on the outside for the animals to go through,” Dela Cruz said.
“Everything is pretty much USDA-certification standard. The facility itself, everything is certified. The only thing that they need for us to add on are things like an emergency exit, minor things that have nothing to do with the actual function of the unit, [but rather] just for safety and sanitation,” he said.
There are no definite schedules yet on the frequency of operations and supply, with the Association still in the planning stage. In the interim, the slaughterhouse will be operated by staff from the Office of the Mayor of Tinian. The facility is government-owned, and personnel are currently being trained.
“The USDA goes through a rigorous process because this is a food issue. Our goal is to make sure that we process the food responsibly because it is for personal consumption. This is not only about money. This is about food safety and food security for the island and for the Commonwealth.”
Dela Cruz said TSA is calling the undertaking “the Beef Initiative” and that it is the beginning of a local production base with all the positives that brings for participation and more.
Senate President Jude Hofschneider told the Journal that revitalizing the cattle industry is one component of ensuring food security in the Northern Mariana Islands, should another global catastrophe occur.
“With the pandemic, and the closure of our borders, who knows what’s going to happen? When the next big thing hits, we want to make sure that our people here are safe, and that we have enough food to feed the populace.”
Born to a family of ranchers, Hofschneider said that the goal is to be self-sustaining, with the cattle industry being revived and compliant, to build consumer confidence that the Tinian beef is clean and certified for consumption.
“Sustainability is key here, because we all are always going to need to eat. We still import beef. There are 50,000 people in the CNMI, and if we can just capture some of that market and allow our product to get into the shelves here, that’d be great. This will be advantageous for the ranchers and Tinian, and also for people who desire to eat grass-fed beef from here,” he said.
Hofschneider also disclosed that the government is tapping into all kinds of partnerships, and putting in all energy and commitment, to reach the objective of being a supplier of beef for the foreseeable future. He is also encouraging ranchers and all potential ranchers to consider venturing into meat production, as the industry moves ahead.
The TSA thanked all the many people who have supported the endeavor in Tinian and in the NMI.
TCA also extends its appreciation to Pamela Sablan of the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service, Patricia Coleman of the Northern Mariana College – Cooperative Research, Extension, and Education Services, and Marie Coleman of the Commonwealth Economic Development Authority for all the help they have received into revitalizing the cattle industry.
In a separate interview, Gov. Ralph DLG. Torres shared with the Journal his excitement about the revitalization of the cattle industry in Tinian and expressed hopes for Tinian to eventually export its “really good quality beef, not just inter-island, but hopefully outside the CNMI.”
Torres also said the government will be investing $1 million from the American Rescue Plan Act funding, for Tinian’s cattle ranch.
The association is targeting Aug. 13 to hold the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Tinian Kualidat Meat Processing Center, to coincide with the first ‘Beef, Beer, and Bands’ festival in Tinian. mbj