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Closure Of Holy Cross Meat Locker Reflects Larger Market Shifts

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Market watchers say it's getting harder for small meat processors to keep their doors open. That doesn't bode well for consumers or producers.

After more than 70 years in the business, a beloved meat locker in eastern Iowa closed its doors last week. Once a mainstay in the state, many small-time meat processors are disappearing.

The Holy Cross Locker in Dubuque County was famous for its smoked sausage, before it shut down last Saturday after 72 years in business. And it’s not the only such operation to close its doors in recent years.

Market watchers say Iowa is losing a lot of these small meat processors. It can be struggle for small family run shops to keep up with regulations in industry that often favors larger plants. Brandi Janssen heads Iowa’s Center for Agricultural Safety and Health.

“They’re critical for a healthy local food system. A small producer is not going to be able to access a giant, federally-inspected processing facility for products that he or she is going to sell to their local community,” she said.

Janssen said these trends aren’t good for farmers either. Without these processors, she says small-scale farmers will lose customers.

“If you don’t have access to a market you don’t have much reason to farm," Janssen said. "It’s just sort of a necessary chain. And then you have to make calculations about well, how far is it economically feasible and also humane to transport animals.”

According to a study by Iowa State researchers, there were about three times as many small meat plants in 1965.

Kate Payne was an Iowa City-based Reporter