Local meat processors and taxidermists are fighting regulations adopted by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission intended to prevent the spread of disease to wildlife in the state.
In an effort to prevent the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease – a neurological disorder found in deer, elk and moose – the AGFC banned the import, transport or possession of these animal carcasses in the state.
“It prevents any (member of the Cervidae family) from entering (Arkansas) unless it’s completely deboned, skull plate cleaned and hide separate from the horns,” said Roger Key, owner of Garner Abattoir Meat Processing & Taxidermy in Van Buren.
With deer season beginning Sept. 28, Key and other local plant owners fear the ban will have a big impact on their revenue if Arkansas hunters are prohibited from bringing out-of-state deer to their businesses for processing.
“Where we’re located is like four miles from the Oklahoma line so you’re talking about cutting our business about 30 percent on the deer processing,” said Randy Cockrum of Cockrum’s Meat Processing & Taxidermy in Rudy. Cockrum estimates a 30 percent hit will amount to about $70,000 in lost revenue.
“We probably average about 1,500 deer a year with about 50 percent of that being Oklahoma business,” said Key who estimates he’ll lost nearly $60,000 due to the ban.
Key said he’s spoken with other plant owners in the area who will likely face similar fates. He said between three plants located in both Sebastian and Crawford counties, an estimated $200,000 will be lost.
The ban may have an impact on the economy of neighboring states as well. Arkansas hunters may be discouraged from hunting in other states if they know they can’t bring their deer across the state line to be processed, according to Key.
“Now, if they’re to harvest an animal, they not only have to know how to field dress the animal, it now has to be skinned and completely deboned before they can do anything with it,” said Key. “There’s a lot of hunters that just aren’t going to do that.”
Cockrum worries amateur processors won’t dispose of waste properly. He said many professional meat processors and taxidermist are already taking precautions to ensure disease doesn’t spread to wildlife in the area.
Key said he is frustrated with the lack of communication about the ban. He discovered it was in place after hearing about it from a customer.
“We have yet to have a Game and Fish Commission official at our facility to tell us about this or hand us any literature on it,” said Key.
Key and Cockrum said they’re working with local politicians to schedule a meeting with the AGFC to discuss the ban further. The men said they hope to find a solution as soon as possible.